Woes continue for "no heart" Senators

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
9:52
AM ET
They say desperate times call for desperate measures.

If that's true, they must have hit on hard times in Ottawa.

On Friday night, trying to shake a 1-3-1 slide (and an 0-6-2 road skid), Senators coach Craig Hartsburg decided to put his three best forwards (C Jason Spezza, RW Daniel Alfredsson and LW/RW Dany Heatley) on three different lines.

Well, after a 5-1 drubbing in New Jersey, Hartsburg will have to go back to the drawing board.

On a snowy, icy, rainy night in Newark, the Senators looked very much under the weather. So much so, when I asked one Devils player about the opposition after the game, he responded by saying, "No heart." Then he backtracked a bit, saying: "They looked disinterested; you could see it in their faces."

Hartsburg's new line combos didn't generate much of a consistent attack. The Senators started extremely slow, recording just three shots in the first period and falling behind 2-0. They finished with 25 shots. That simply isn't enough, especially against Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen, who didn't look particularly sharp. In fact, Clemmensen reminded me of former Sens goalie Ray Emery, leaving a lot of loose pucks around the net. On this night, the Senators needed more shots and needed to be much more competitive getting to the net.

From my vantage point, going forward, I think Hartsburg would be better off reuniting his top line, or at least keeping Spezza and Heatley together. I don't think it does any good to play Spezza on a line with role-playing wingers Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil.

The Senators, even at their best, are a flawed team for a number of reasons. First, they've never found a strong No. 2 center (or a 1A to complement Spezza). Mike Fisher is a terrific two-way pivot, but, to me, he's best slotted as a No. 3. They also have problems on the blue line. A once-strong unit is a shadow of its former self. Over the past several years, defensemen Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Joe Corvo and Andrej Meszaros have left town. The current group is heavier on grit, but lighter on skill. That's the wrong direction to take in the current NHL. And, in goal, Alex Auld and Martin Gerber don't scare opponents.

Hartsburg's desire for a more balanced attack is understandable. In this case, however, I think the Senators will have a better chance by keeping their big-money players together. Until GM Bryan Murray begins the necessary roster reconstruction, Hartsburg really doesn't have any better options.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.

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