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Frustration rears its head in nervous Ottawa Senators' camp

The Senators appeared to be turning the corner earlier this month following a slow start to the season, but with goals pouring in their net at an alarming rate lately, the losses are mounting along with the frustration.

On Wednesday, the day after Ottawa suffered its fifth loss in its past five games with a 7-2 defeat at home against the Boston Bruins, tempers flared when forwards Chris Neil and Antoine Vermette tangled at the end of practice.

Although both players dismissed the incident afterward, it's clear that all is not well around Scotiabank Place.

"Whenever you get a high-intensity practice, stuff like that happens; it's not even an issue," said Neil, who used less diplomacy in talking about the team's most recent performance that left it in 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings before Wednesday's games.

"It's definitely embarrassing losing like that," he said. "It looked like our whole team hadn't played together before."

Fans in Ottawa have been left to think the same thing at times this season, particularly after the beating by Boston.

The return of Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara, who left the Senators this summer to many a fan's dismay, only served to highlight that chief among Ottawa's problems this year has been its poor defensive record.

"It's a fact we're giving up a lot of chances, and making it real hard for our goalies," captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "We know in this league you have to play great defence to win and we haven't been doing that."

Ottawa has given up 31 goals in its last seven games and in four of its past five losses the opposition has scored at least six times.

"If you look at our last couple of games, we've given up way too many goals," Vermette said. "Turnovers are a big issue for us."

While goaltender Martin Gerber took much of the blame for the team's poor play early by turning in some shaky performances, his replacement, Ray Emery, isn't faring much better these days and Senators coach Bryan Murray boils that down to his skaters.

"It's not a goaltending thing, it's a defensive-coverage thing," Murray says of his team's goals-against woes.

"We've always been solid defensively," Alfredsson added. "Obviously, it's a different team from year-to-year with the new rules and all.

"The big thing about us is: you've got to be in a position to support each other."

On the blue-line, Chara's loss, as well as that of Brian Pothier, to off-season free agency was supposed to be offset by the signings of Joe Corvo and Tom Preissing.

That hasn't happened for the most part.

Despite leading the league with a plus-23 rating as of Wednesday - a stat he admits is more down to "being in the right place at the right time" - Preissing is only starting to settle in to his new surroundings.

Corvo, who got off to a quick start offensively, has struggled in his own end.

"Joe tries to do too much," Murray said. "He tries to do more than his own job at times.

"The (way) people are forechecking, it's a lot harder on the defence if you don't move the puck."

It hasn't helped the Senators that Wade Redden has been hurt much of the season.

Sophomore Andrej Meszaros has also struggled following a strong rookie season and veteran Chris Phillips hasn't made the impact on the opposition that Chara did as the team's primary shutdown defenceman.

The team's steadiest blue-liners have arguably been a pair of lesser-lights, Anton Volchenkov and Christoph Schubert, the latter of whom has spent much of his time in the NHL as a forward.

But Ottawa's struggles can't be attributed to just its defensive corps. Its forwards are guilty of turning over the puck and not getting back to help out.

"Turnovers are a big issue for us," Vermette said.

The Senators have a chance to shore things up Thursday when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning at home.

Ottawa lost just nine games at home all season last year. Tuesday's defeat was already its eighth at Scotiabank Place this season.

"The frustrating part from being a coach or a fan is we play Buffalo and we know we can play the game," said Murray, who watched his team hold the conference-leading Sabres to one goal in a victory on Saturday before getting shelled by the Bruins.

"We know we can play defence - and we didn't do it (against Boston). We just have to get more people playing better."



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