Sens line up changes fall flat as season slips away
In what appeared to be a desperate attempt to cover up his benching of Mike Hoffman in the 3rd period of Saturday night's Leafs game, Sens coach Dave Cameron turned the Senators line up on its ear Sunday against the Dallas Stars.
Hoffman re-entered the lineup but only on the fourth line. Mika Zibanejad acquired new wingers and new comer Scott Gomez found himself teamed up with Bobby Ryan. Brought on board at the last minute to solidify the centre position, Gomez has unexpectedly been thrust into an offensive role on the power play and in last night's game. Only the line of Stone, Smith and Pageau were able to withstand the shuffle.
At this stage in the season, with everything on the line, one has to wonder why coach Cameron would think a wholesale change of this degree would result in a win, especially against a superior team like the Dallas Stars. Playing with new line mates usually results in mistakes being made. It takes time for players to learn how to play together well. But, time is not something the Senators have a lot of right now and as one might expect the Stars winning goal was the result of a communications breakdown.
Granted the Senators looked flat Saturday night vs. the Leafs but is the reason the line combinations or is it something else? Is it perhaps (as it looks), the players have tuned out their coaches?
This has been a strange year. Coming off last year's miraculous drive to the playoffs, the Senators got off to a solid start and had even moved into second place in their Division before tanking in December and January. Now, while in a similar position as last year, the Senators seemingly lack the energy and will necessary to pull off the impossible two years in a row.
Unlike last year, the Senators allow more shots than any team, game in game out. And, they have failed on special teams, especially on the penalty kill. Combine these with their penchant of giving up the first goal of the game and you have a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, disaster is exactly what we are now looking at with 15 games to go in the Senators 2105-16 season.
While it's difficult to point to one particular thing or event, losing fire plug Eric Condra to free agency last summer is a hole the Senators have failed to fill. Zack Smith's "career year" has helped, but the loss of Clarke McAuthur, Kyle Turris and now Mark Borowiecki has put more pressure on younger players like Mika Zibanjad, Alex Chiasson and Curtis Lazar to step up. None have unfortunately.
Nevertheless, injuries didn't keep last year's Senator team from performing when the chips were down. The energy around the team is different this year and I can only believe that the personal rift between Mike Hoffman and coach Cameron is but a symptom of something deeper.
Last year the team was still in its honeymoon period with its new coach. He was still being positive and reinforcing the young players. This year however, coach Cameron has taken to being outspoken with the media about the team's problems, while failing to take responsibility for its ills.
The most telling indicator for me that their is a rift between the coach and his team came back in February when the team held a closed doors, players-only meeting after the 7-2 shellacking they suffered at the hands of the Oilers on home ice. When asked what had been discussed, Cameron, not knowing, said the players had to sort it out but that he "was not going to abandon them at their time of need".
I found this comment very odd because it seemed as if the coach was distancing himself from the poor play of his team, as if he wasn't a part of it or even responsible for their poor play in any way. I have news for you Cameron, not only are you a major part of the team, but the quality of the team's play on the ice is your direct responsibility. Of course the players need to be responsible for their own play, but how the team plays as a team, together on the ice, is the coach's responsibility. Failure to adjust to other teams' exploitation of our weaknesses, failure to come up with line combinations that produce and defend as a team, poor special teams play... All these things are the coaches responsibility, not the players. It is the coach who stirs the pot, who decides how players are used and who plays and who sits.
So, after another blown season, it looks like we're exactly where we were 2-springs ago... On the outside looking in with a coaching staff that has alienated their players and therefore are unable to get the most out of them even when the chips are down--and when we expect the players to find another gear.
NHL hockey players are younger than ever. As young men they have trouble controlling their emotions. It's easy to see now that there is a serious problem in the Senators dressing room. It's called "lack of respect". While it can cut both ways, one thing is for sure, the result is a lot of wasted emotional energy that is preventing the Sens from being able to raise their game now when they need it most.
Why coaches grow egos to the point of jeopardizing their team's play, I don't know. I just know it needs to stop if we are going to win the 13 of 15 games remaining in the Sens season if we are going to make the playoffs.