Tale of two seasons: Sens ax Paddock

It's not much of a shock when a coach is fired these days. It is when his team shows symptoms seen in someone suffering from bipolar disorder.

The Ottawa Senators got off to an incredible start under John Paddock, hand-picked in July by general manager Bryan Murray as his replacement following the franchise's first modern-day Stanley Cup finals appearance.

Two straight shutout losses ended Paddock's tenure after 64 games on Wednesday. The Senators became the third team this season to change coaches after Murray added coach to his general manager title.

“It’s shocking really that it comes to this,” said Murray, who makes his season debut as coach on Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers. “It’s disappointing from everybody’s point of view.”

With a league-leading 210 goals scored and the Sens still atop the Northeast Division and just two points off the top spot in the East, that would be a gross understatement.

On the heels of their finals appearance, the Senators opened the 2007-08 season with a 12-1-0 start. Everything clicked. The top line of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza thrived, while goaltenders Martin Gerber, Ray Emery - and even rookie Brian Elliot - shined.

Through Nov. 4, Alfredsson had nine goals and and 10 assists. Heatley, a 100-point scorer each of the previous two seasons, had six multipoint games and totaled eight goals and seven assists. Spezza scored only once, but assisted on 12 other goals.

With Emery working his way back from a wrist injury, Gerber shouldered the load in goal, going 9-1-0 with a 1.88 goals-against average. Emery returned after missing five games to win both his starts and Elliott - picked 291st overall in 2003 - made 25 saves in his NHL debut, a 3-1 win over the reigning Southeast Division champion Atlanta Thrashers.

On Jan. 12, Ottawa was 29-10-4 after beating the Detroit Red Wings in a matchup touted as a preview of this season's Cup finals. The following night, Heatley suffered a shoulder injury that would sideline him for 11 games as the Senators lost to the New York Islanders, snapping a four-game winning streak and sending them in a tailspin they now have just 18 games to recover from.

Ottawa has won only seven of 21 games since then, and has gone just 1-12-2 when scoring three goals or fewer in that span. Acquiring Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore in a trade from the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 11 failed to jump-start the offense, which has been non-existent.

After losing 5-0 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, the Sens were beyond sluggish in a 4-0 defeat to the Boston Bruins on Tueaday in what was Paddock's final game, roughly one month after he coached in the All-Star game.

It’s not known who will start in goal during Murray’s debut, but neither Emery nor Gerber have played well recently. Emery is 2-3-1 with a 3.40 GAA in his last six starts while Gerber is 0-3-1 with a 3.27 GAA in four starts since last winning on Jan. 29.

One thing is clear about Murray: he is a taskmaster - perhaps not in the same vein as the Tampa Bay Lightning's John Tortorella - but he has a certain style and knows what he wants to see from his team.

“Get some discipline in the play but mainly, get some emotion and effort into the game,” he told the team's official Web site. “I think we’ve been a very passive group in the last number of games and I think it’s because of not winning. Players start to grip their sticks a little too much, and that’ll be the first area to address.”

And the upcoming schedule is not easy. Starting Monday, they'll kick off a four-game Western road trip with a finals rematch against the Anaheim Ducks.

“I think we have a real good hockey team, I think a very comparable hockey team to last year,” he said. “Like every team, you’ve got to get a little bit lucky (and) you’ve got to play very, very hard. But yeah, I think we have a real contending team here.”

No comments: