Senators search for answers…without coaches

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Angry and searching for answers for the barrage of breakdowns while losing seven of their first 11 games, Ottawa Senators players kicked the coaches out of the dressing room for a blunt internal discussion on Monday.

Jason Spezza gathers up the puck with Hampus Lindholm close behind in the third period as the Ottawa Senators take on the Anaheim Ducks in NHL action at the Canadian Tire Centre. (Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen)


Welcome to Anti-Coach’s Corner.

Angry and searching for answers for the barrage of breakdowns while losing seven of their first 11 games, Ottawa Senators players kicked the coaches out of the dressing room for a blunt internal discussion on Monday.

When coach Paul MacLean then ran them through practice before the team left for Chicago and Tuesday’s game against the defending Stanley Cup champions, there was lineup shuffle which saw captain Jason Spezza re-united with right winger Bobby Ryan.

“The worst thing you can do is just let things keep going without discussing things,” said Spezza, who was shaking his head as he left Canadian Tire Centre late Sunday following the Senators 5-2 defeat to the San Jose Sharks. “It was important to talk amongst ourselves and things can get aired out better when it’s just among the group.”

Spezza refused to go into specifics about the talking points, but in general it was about playing a tad simpler in the opening stages of games, about backing each other up to prevent so many odd man rushes and about not falling apart if the team does fall behind.

“We had a good open discussion in the room, we (talked about making) some adjustments, our starts are not the way we want them to be and that has to change. It’s a good opportunity to try and use this.

As a team you’ve got to grow.”

Before the coaches were locked out, Spezza did have a talk with coach Paul MacLean and offered up MacLean’s viewpoint of the situation to the rest of the team. Spezza, however, says it’s sometimes easier for players to voice their opinions when the guy with the bushy mustache and the loud whistle isn’t in the room.

“For a lot of guys, when the coaches are involved in things, they need to be careful what they’re saying,” Spezza said. “This is a more frank discussion. It opens up the room to hear from everyone and not just from the same three or four (leaders).”

While the Senators enjoyed a brief taste of success in knocking off the Detroit Red Wings 6-1 last Wednesday, they came crashing back to earth with humbling home ice losses to the supposedly-tired Sharks Sunday and Anaheim Ducks on Friday. The Senators have offered up a steady diet of turnovers that their opponents have been all too happy to feast upon.

Defenceman Marc Methot, who scored his first goal of the season against the Sharks, says the 40-minute meeting was productive and positive, but it wasn’t about pointing fingers at particular players. Rather, it included discussions about better defensive discipline – among forwards, as well as defencemen – and better communication with goaltenders Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner.

“We’re not throwing water bottles or kicking bottles and pucks at each other in the room,” said Methot. “That doesn’t get you anywhere. Screaming like that won’t improve anything because we’re professional athletes. We know how to talk in here. You know when you’re doing something wrong on the ice. We need to address it with each other, calling each other out a little bit in a good way, hoping that we’ll turn it around.”

MacLean was happy that his players have taken it upon themselves to address the issues, which he claims stem from poor structure, not from poor effort.

“Any time you’re talking about things and (trying to find) solutions, it’s is a good thing, a positive thing,” he said. “The obvious answer is to play better, but you have to sort out what direction you’re going in before setting sail. What is the course we’re going to follow?”

For Tuesday, anywhere, it appears as if the Senators will go back to their original plan of a big line featuring Spezza, Ryan and Milan Michalek. Coincidentally enough, MacLean had separated Spezza and Ryan following ugly losses to San Jose and Anaheim on their trip to California earlier in the month. Spezza responded with a hat trick in the Senators’ 4-3 overtime win over the Phoenix Coyotes to complete the road trip.

The other line combinations at practice Monday featured Clarke MacArthur with Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad, Cory Conacher alongside Zack Smith and Chris Neil and a fourth line of Colin Greening, Derek Grant and Erik Condra. Matt Kassian also received some repetitions on that unit, meaning it’s possible he could be inserted into the lineup against Chicago. There is no guarantee that MacArthur, who missed Sunday’s game with an undisclosed injury, will play against the Blackhawks. MacLean didn’t announce his starting goaltender.

Spezza recognizes how tough the situation is.

“We’re playing the Stanley Cup champions, who everyone wants to beat, in arguably the toughest rink in the league to play in,” he said. “We’re not going to get any favours from them. They’re going to see us as a team that’s reeling a little bit and lost two in a row and try to jump on us.”

MacLean suggests the Senators have played some difficult teams to start the season, but he also says the losing can only go on so long before moves have to be made.

“The next thing that happens is people start leaving,” he said. “We feel we have a real good group and we’re going through some growing pains right now. But if things don’t get better, changes will get made. That’s the history of the game.”

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