Last night's game between Ottawa and Boston, which the Bruins won 4-0, was the second time in two nights that the Sens had been blanked. This is a team that started off the season with a 15-2 record, and have since slumped to something like 21-19-6 (or some such) record.
I am a fan of the Senators, and I will stick with my team throughout this whole period of struggle; I did when they first came into the league again, and I will now. I can remember the lean years this team had, and then the moderate success they had before they hit their full stride. But that stride seems to have stumbled, stumbled mightily.
While many different theories have been discussed about why the team isn't playing well, I have my own theory: malaise. The team has a malaise running through it, that started around the time of the hijinks of Ray Emery and the juggling act of his goalies tha coach John Paddock instituted. The malaise is one of seemingly "let's just play not go out there on the ice in games with any sense of urgency, passion, or desire to win the game". The attitude of "Let's see which goalie can help us win tonight" is also not working. This team leads the league offensively with the most goals scored, even with all the problems of late. Offensively, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley (the CASH line, now called the CRASH line) have been slumping something badly, and when those three aren't scoring, the rest of the team was picking up the slack. But they aren't. Some of the other players like Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette and Randy Robitaille went through hot streaks, but the team's scoring has been cool the last while.
And then there's the defense. Back near the end of December, the team was tenth or so in league in goals against, not giving up a lot of bad goals, and keeping the defense relatively solid. However, they've dropped to 24th or so in the goals against category and are seemingly porous these days. Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov have been pretty good all year, but they're making basic mistakes out there right now, as are the rest of the team's defensemen. Andre Mezaros and Wade Redden have been ineffective defensively of late, and while the acquisition of Mike Commodore was a good one, he hasn't totally fit into the defensive corps yet. The goaltending tribulations of Ray Emery and Martin Gerber (who definitely got the short end of the stick after a couple of poor outings) are the topic of much speculation, and my own feeling is that Emery needs to sit on the bench, and give Gerber a chance to rediscover his goaltending touch that led this team in the early part of the season.
Add to that the power play is pretty anemic these days, and the penalty killing on this team is now mediocre to average at best, and well... :(
Personally, I think the players on this Senators team have lost confidence in their coach, John Paddock. Either that, or Paddock's strategies and coaching methods aren't what this team needs. This team is essentially the same as the one that made that fabulous run to the Cup final last year, and the addition of Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore should have made the team better. But the malaise in the team's spirit appears to have started with some of Paddock's decisions regarding Emery's shoddy behaviour of missing practices (which says something to one's teammates) and then rewarding him with more game starts, and the fact that he hasn't expressed his displeasure with the star players who aren't performing by benching them for periods of time.
Yesterday's trade involving Martin Lapointe will shake things up, due to Lapointe's reputation in the dressing room and his leadership capabilities, but Ottawa needs to shake things up a bit. Perhaps they should call up Brian Elliott, the goaltender from Binghamton, and some of the other rookies and bench a few of the veterans on this team for a game or two. Or maybe the team should just fire John Paddock, and get Brian Murray out of the upper tiers of Scotiabank Place and back down behind the bench. Either way, something's got to give with this team.