By Allan Muir
No one expected Ottawa GM Bryan Murray to do anything drastic in the wake of Jason Spezza’s long-term back injury. Because really, what options did he have? It’s not like other teams are looking to move the sort of all-world talent it would take to adequately fill the superstar center’s skates.
Besides, Murray’s always been a prudent man. Even if that player was out there, the proper course of action would be to give everyone in the room a real chance to step up and fill the void first.
There was a sense that these past eight days would give them that chance. The Sens had five games over that densely packed stretch, five games to pull together and show what they had without their offensive leader in the lineup.
Now we know.
It ain’t much.
With a listless 1-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets this afternoon, the Senators failed four of those five tests, managing only to beat the floundering Buffalo Sabres.
More troubling: they mustered just seven goals along the way and were shut out twice … by backup goalies.
It’d be one thing if they’d staged an all-out assault that made Winnipeg’s rarely used Al Montoya look like Ken Dryden today, but that was a ridiculously easy 33-save performance. And this was a goalie ready to be beaten. His rust showed in the form of several poorly controlled rebounds, but the Sens did nothing to take advantage of those fat scoring chances. They had no net presence. No push.
There was so little urgency, so little creativity in their game that the Jets were forced to take just three minors on the day, significant for a team that ranks 30th on the penalty kill.
That’s a continuation of a trend that’s seen them generate just 15 power play opportunities over this stretch. Without Spezza, the Sens don’t control the puck as well or as often. And when they do have it, they aren’t making the sort of plays that draw penalties.
Even after this rough stretch, Ottawa is holding down fifth place in the conference, just three points off the lead. Of course, they’re also three points out of ninth, and that’s why it’s hard to imagine Murray will roll with the status quo much longer.
He won’t find a replacement for Spezza out there — forget about Florida’s Stephen Weiss — but really, he doesn’t have to add finesse. What he needs is an edgy player who allows coach Paul MacLean to play with the recipe. Muddy it up a bit. Maybe someone willing to go to the net and, once there, has the ability to put away the garbage.
It might be ugly, but passion rarely is. And a little passion would go a long way toward keeping Ottawa in the hunt long enough for Spezza’s eventual return to matter.