PITTSBURGH – Bryan Murray shook his head and yelled his disapproval.
“Hit the net! Hit the net!,” the Ottawa Senators head coach said after one of his players blew a shot wide of the cage during a drill in practice Thursday.
It’s the most basic fundamental in hockey, but it needed to be reinforced to a floundering Senators team desperate to relocate its offensive mojo.
The team that led the NHL with 258 goals this season (not counting shootout deciders) can’t buy a goal at the worst time of the season. They’ve been shut out three of their last five games, including Wednesday night’s 4-0 blanking by Pittsburgh in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final.
“That’s the question of the day, obviously,” Murray said after practice. “When you get shut out and you miss the net as many times as we did last night on the opportunities that we had, it becomes a real focal point. …
“We’ve talked about it, we had a video session this morning and went through some of the points. But until we score some goals, that will be the question of the series.”
Murray shuffled his lines in an attempt to kickstart the offence in Game 2 on Friday night (7 p.m. ET), elevating veteran winger Martin Lapointe to the top unit with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. Rookie Nick Foligno joined Antoine Vermette and Cory Stillman on the second line.
“Obviously I’m not there to handle the puck on that line, we all know that” said Lapointe, acquired from Chicago at the trade deadline. “But I will do my job, maybe create a little more room for them. And maybe make sure that the first line has a forecheck. Sometimes when the first line is skilled, the forecheck is not quite there.
“I have to go in there and bang some bodies and crash the net. I’m excited about it, it’s a great opportunity.”
The Senators have scored a total of one goal in the two games without star captain Daniel Alfredsson in the lineup. Murray made it clear he expects more from Spezza and Heatley.
“I’d like to think that they’ll get some scoring chances,” said Murray. “They played 25-26 minutes last night, they got a lot of power-play time, they’ve got to score some goals for us. That’s our expectation of them.”
Heatley felt his line created chances but couldn’t finish.
“We missed the net quite a bit last night,” said Heatley. “You can’t score if you don’t give yourself a chance to score.”
Lapointe pointed to a statistic that tells the tale.
“I guess they counted 18 shots that missed the nets after two periods last night,” he said. “I don’t want to believe that but that’s what they counted. We have to hit the net. We have to put the puck at (Marc-Andre) Fleury’s feet and get some rebounds and some ugly goals.”
What they really need is to get Alfredsson (knee) back in the lineup. Despite a pessimistic outlook from Murray when asked about it every day, rumblings won’t go away that Alfredsson could possibly return at some point when the series shifts to Ottawa. The question came up yet again Thursday and this time Murray gave his shortest answer yet.
“Just what I said, he’s out,” said Murray.
Two-way centre Mike Fisher (knee) and gritty forward Chris Kelly (leg) are also out and now key defenceman Anton Volchenkov is a question mark. He sports a massive cut on his forehead after taking a shot in the face in Game 1.
“He’s got a lot of swelling, a lot of stitches,” said Murray. “He’ll have to decide tomorrow whether he feels he can wear a helmet and play.”
When it rains it pours on the injury front for Ottawa.
“That’s the frustration of everybody,” said Murray. “We had a struggle in the second half of the year, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘The guys are waiting for the playoffs. Once we get in we’ll get back to the level of play we can be at.’ Now we’re potentially losing four key guys off our team.”
The Penguins don’t feel bad nor do they plan on taking Ottawa lightly because of the injuries.
“They are missing their captain, the soul of the team, but they’ve got other guys who can score and hurt you,” said former Senator Marian Hossa.
Pittsburgh head coach Michel Therrien figures the visitors will come out flying Friday night.
“We know they’re going to come out with more desperation and we need to be even better than last night,” said Therrien.