The defence rests and the goalies take fire

Good defensive play was expected to be a Senators’ strength, but has been anything but so far this season.

Ottawa Senators center Stephane Da Costa, of France, falls to the ice as Anaheim Ducks left wing Jakob Silfverberg, right, of Sweden, looks on during the second period of their NHL hockey game, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, in Anaheim, Calif. Mark J. Terril, AP

PHOENIX — In Bryan Murray’s 42 years in the National Hockey League, he can’t remember another time his team had yielded 56 shots in a game that didn’t go to overtime.

So, in many respects, the Ottawa Senators general manager was at a loss Monday to explain the long long weekend that was for his beleaguered hockey team. Just in case you missed the late-night shooting galleries in California, the Senators gave up 56 shots in Sunday’s 4-1 defeat against the Anaheim Ducks and 50 shots in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks.

As a result, the Senators (1-2-2) head into Tuesday’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes desperately searching for ways to clean up their act inside their own blue-line. There’s a distinct possibility changes could be made, perhaps even before Thursday’s home opener against the New Jersey Devils at Canadian Tire Centre.

“The one thing about pro sport and hockey is it’s day to day,” Murray said. “Nobody is assured of anything. None of us is assured of anything in this business, we know that. And it’s based on how you perform, individually and as a group, and, if we’re not good enough, if we don’t have a player that can contribute here, then something has to be done about it, if possible. But that’s not always possible.”

Trades are always difficult, especially early in the season, and the Senators are operating on their own self-imposed tight salary cap.

What’s more likely is a recall of a player or two from Binghamton of the American Hockey League, with centres Mika Zibanejad and Jim O’Brien as possibilities. Current Senators centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau would appear to be on the hot seat in the beaming sunshine here after being on the ice for two goals against Sunday during only three minutes two seconds of ice time.

If there are changes, they’re not expected to happen until after the Senators return home on Wednesday afternoon.

“I would have to talk to (Binghamton coach Luke Richardson) to see how guys have played,” Murray said.

As for how the guys at the NHL level have played, well, let Murray provide his viewpoint.

“The first thing I see is not playing together and not taking advantage of each other and not helping each other play the game,” he said. “It seems to me that we’re overwhelmed a lot in our end by the forecheck of the other team.

“Whether we’re not in the proper position or whether we’re not willing to move the puck quickly, it seems like our defence gets turning back and forth instead of getting the puck out clean on a somewhat consistent basis. We’re giving up two or three shots or chances almost every time the puck is put in (the Ottawa zone). If you can’t get the puck out of your end, it’s very hard to play the game.”

Murray recognized that the Senators faced a tough schedule — following Saturday’s night game in San Jose, the Senators flew to Anaheim for Sunday’s late afternoon game — but every team must deal with similar circumstances at some point during the season.

He wasn’t deflecting the obvious: The Senators were a mess.

By the 4:06 mark on Sunday, Anaheim led 2-0 and had outshot the Senators 9-3, prompting coach Paul MacLean to replace starting goaltender Craig Anderson with Robin Lehner, hoping to shake up the entire group. It didn’t stop the tidal wave of shots.

“The 4-1 score was a compliment to us, to Robin Lehner,” Murray said. “Without a doubt, he probably made four unbelievable great stops for us and we still gave up four goals.”

Indeed, Lehner, who stopped 47 of 50 shots against San Jose, was an on island by himself on the weekend. His .948 save percentage ranks seventh in the NHL, but he doesn’t have a win.

After five games, the Senators have allowed an average of 43 shots per game, by far the most among 30 NHL teams. Through Sunday, the Buffalo Sabres had given up an average of 37, followed by the New York Rangers, at 35.8.

The performance clearly baffles Murray, who before the season believed the Senators’ defensive play (including proper defensive awareness by forwards, as well at those who line up on defence) was a team strength.

“If we get that looked after, the rest will take care of itself,” the general manager said. “In any sport, you can work as hard individually as you possibly can, but, if you’re not supported by other people or you’re not co-ordinated, then it doesn’t matter, because the structure breaks down.”

If that structure isn’t established immediately, Murray warns somebody will pay the price.

“People put themselves in jeopardy every day,” he said. “And, if you don’t win hockey games, whether they be younger or older guys, you can only go so long as a group.”

 

kwarren@ottawacitizen.com

 

Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

 

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