With a few days until the Friday's game against the Buffalo Sabres, the media had an opportunity to discuss Ottawa's slow 1-4-1 start to the season with Bryan Murray. Here's a transcript of the scrum:
Q: Bryan, through six hockey games so far, what do you see as the biggest issue that you've seen thus far?
BM: We're not moving the puck from the back end. We're not defending very well. We're giving up far too many chances. I think that's a big issue. Too many young guys on the blueline. Rebuilding this team. No, I'm being smart there. No, I just think that we're turning the puck over too often in our own end. We haven't battled defensively the way that we should. The way that we're capable of doing, in my opinion. The result is that we're scrambling for the puck too often and as a result, we don't create any offence and we don't keep the puck out of our net enough.
Q: Is that a personnel issue or a work ethic issue?
BM: I think it's probably a combination (of both). I think that we've got a couple of young guys on the blueline that have struggled to play their game and I think that's it become contagious. I can't say that one of our d(efenceman) have played to where I thought they were going to be. We can go through it: Chris Phillips has got to be a real top defender. He does miss his partner (Volchenkov) a little bit. I think when him and Gonchar play together, they're really good but we haven't been able to do that too often as we'd like. We expected Erik Karlsson to come back after a very strong finish last year. I think we all thought that he was a really good draft pick at the time and that he had developed in a really strong player in the second of last year and he has struggled big time so far this year. So our expectations aren't being fulfilled in that... (sigh) there's a little bit of a dropoff in that area that when you build a team and you have a group, you think that we're replacing this guy with that guy and that's an even trade and the rest will be fine. Obviously when Karlsson and Kuba played together, it was a better pairing than anyone that we've being able to accomodate him with so far.
Q: When Cory (Clouston) came in, he brought in some badly need structure. Have guys strayed away from that?
BM: When guys don't play well in a couple of areas, everything breaks down. If you watched practice today, he's trying to refine some things but what a quiet practice. When you lose, you read about yourself, you hear about yourself. You have meeting after meeting. Before very long, the confident player that you had isn't so confident anymore. I think that's a little bit of it. Breaks down in one area lead to other breakdowns and it's very obvious in the last few games, that's the big problem right now.
Q: You talked about this confidence wise and Cory's alluded to this before but is this a fragile team right now?
BM: I think every team... I watched Vancouver play last night. Everybody in Canada picked them to win the Stanley Cup. They lose 6-1 to Minnesota. I talked to Chuck Fletcher during the day. They couldn't win a game. The coach burned them out on Sunday. All kinds of questions and they win the (next) game 6-1. Teams that don't win have a tough time winning. That's what happens and you've got to get a win. You've got to get a big performance from a couple of individuals and I'm hoping that to be the case (here). We've gone through streaks with this team. Too many of them for the last couple of years where we lose 8 and then we win 10 in a row or whatever it may be. We were hoping that wouldn't be the case. Teams become fragile because of not playing to their potential.
Q: Is it a leadership issue?
BM: No, I think it's just winning and losing. I hear that. I think our leaders are very strong people. Is there a better captain than Daniel Alfredsson in the league right now? Chris Phillips is a strong person. Mike Fisher is a strong person. Jason Spezza, I look at him and I think he's a real strong person this year. I don't think it's that. I think it's getting together a little bit more often. Getting a little bit of a break. Not giving up a goal early in the game. Getting into the third period of a game somewhat close and giving yourself a chance to win.
Q: It is just six games in to the season, people throw out the word panic. How much of a concern is it six games in?
BM: First of all, everybody panics because they believe they're supposed to. I think that's part of it. We're all concerned. We want to win every night. The preparation for each individual game is for that to happen so when we don't, we're concerned. That's our business. You play 82-games and the best teams are going to lose 30 games or more. I want to see some of our people play a lot better. I want to see a couple of our young guys who we really counted upon in the second half of last year to get back to that level. Obviously it comes down to our best players playing their best hockey and I can't say that that's happened every night.
Q: Bryan, what would you personally to help the situation? If anything?
BM: It's up to all of us. This is a team. It's not the coach or players only. It's me doing anything I can. I sent Zach Smith down this morning. We're going to bring David Hale up. I have talked to a number of people. As I've said, I talked to Chuck Fletcher for a long time yesterday. I said "Can I help you, you help me" type of thing. So we're talking with to the management of other teams, trying to find if there is a need and a possibility of making another move. That's not always the solution but it's something that maybe sends a message to the players.
Q: Bryan, Alexei Kovalev is seemingly a lightning rod for criticism. How would you evaluate him thus far?
BM: Not very good. It looks like his skating isn't where it was last year. I think there are lingering effects from the surgery that he had. I'm hoping that's part of it. I'm hoping that as time goes on and he gets going, it's like Milan. I don't think Milan is quite where he will be. I don't think Alex is where he will be. We need him to be a good player for this hockey team. We need him to be a creative player. He doesn't have to be a star. He has to be creative and help the players that he's playing with, the power play, those areas to get better. He knows he is one of those people who everyone points at. I don't know whether that bothers him or not. I assume it would like it bothers anyone else.
Q: Is this more than a slump in the beginning of the year?
BM: I don't know. I hope not. I looked at our team last year, I thought we had a pretty good hockey team. This is not an old hockey team. I hear the implications all of the time. That's bull. This is an average aged hockey team. There a couple of older hockey players on every team as I look around the league. I think we're missing a little bit on the back end in one spot I think, but beyond that, I think that this is a pretty good hockey team but we need our players for the most part, to get back to a good level. And with that, we'll be a pretty competitive hockey team.
Q: With the power play, you've brought in Gonchar to make it better, what do you see? You've been observing many of the games on the road...
BM: He's certainly come in to help the power play. I read somewhere that he basically hasn't done anything to help the power play. I think he's done a lot. We have a group on the power play that as I watch every team play around the league, we have a talent level on the power play that should be productive. Sometimes you know, the power play is a strange thing. You go 5 or 6 games, don't get a shot on goal and then it clicks. I'm hoping that's the case. I don't think we give ourselves a chance often enough. We enter the zone. We don't make that safe pass to get control first. We try to make that homerun play right away or shoot the puck from a bad angle. So I'm hoping that with time and work here, not much time mind you, that it gets considerably better.
Q: I know it's not your decision but would you like to see Robin Lehner start?
BM: Well he hasn't given up a goal yet but he hasn't gotten many shots. I'm not going to comment on that. That's a coaching decision. I talk to the coaching staff all of the time regarding players, "Do you like this guy or not like that guy? Do you want to play this person or would you like me to call someone else up?" We discuss that but he can make that determination.
Q: Any update on Pascal Leclaire?
BM: Much better today. We say that it's day-to-day but he gets to go on the ice maybe as early as tomorrow. It won't be by the weekend for sure (when he plays next) but we're hoping to get through the weekend and that he feels a lot better.
Q: How is Eugene Melnyk handling this rough start?
BM: I think like the rest of us. Disappointed but understanding. I talked to him on Sunday and he asked "What can I do to help?" In fact, the game in Montreal is what we talked about obviously. The third period of a tied game, we only get two shots on goal. But beyond that, he's been fine. He's a lot easier on us than you are Dan (Seguin). I can tell you that...
Q: Bryan, are you confident that the players are still receptive to the coach's message?
BM: Yeah. I don't know why they wouldn't be at this point. I think Cory's come in and as Wayne (Scanlan) said earlier, he's brought structure right away. He gave them a chance to be a competitive group. I think the same message is being sent forward. There's a few changes in the lineup only so I'm sure that this group respects him greatly.
Wednesday Link Dump:
- Via Scott MacArthur's Twitter: Should be noted that when asked if Lehner would get a start for Sens, Clouston didn't rule it out.
- Via Dan Seguin's Twitter: Bryan Murray says Alex Kovalev isn't skating as well. Kovalev disagrees. Says he's skating better. ( Ed. note: Expect Don Brennan to hit the streets, talk to a few fans and get to the bottom of this.)
- Former Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg will undergo heart surgery on Wednesday to correct ascending aortic aneurysm.
- At practice, the Cory Clouston bag skated the team. It looked something like this.
- I hate Yankees fan.
- Bruce Garrioch's deductive reasoning indicates that David Hale's callup will spell Brian Lee.
- Also at practice, Sergei Gonchar was hit by an Alexei Kovalev shot and had to leave the ice. It doesn't appear to be anything to worry about though since he did eventually return to practice.
- SLC from Five For Smiting has been banned from every local Tim Hortons.
- Via Erin Nicks' Twitter: Jason Spezza: 27-years-old, a handful of games into the NHL season, and he requires a "maintenance day." Alrighty then.
- I was in the Kanata Centrum last night and stumbled upon a Wade Redden Rangers jersey that's for sale at Clubhouse. The cost is only $69. Steeeeeeal.