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Senators Watch: Time to lean on the Pizza Line

A winning streak would be nice, but what the Ottawa Senators need right now more than anything else is a little bit of decisiveness.

And it looks as though they’re finally getting it from coach Craig Hartsburg. Whether or not he has the courage to stick to his convictions will likely go a long way toward determining whether the Senators will make the playoffs this season or become contenders in the John Tavares/Victor Hedman Sweepstakes.

After trying as hard as he could to fit a star-shaped peg into a square hole, Hartsburg finally broke down and reunited the top line of Jason Spezza between Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson. Now it’s up to Hartsburg to run with his three studs no matter what. The first quarter of the season has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that guys such as Antoine Vermette, Nick Foligno and Jesse Winchester are miscast as top-line players, so why put them in roles where they’re going to fail?

Given the chance to play together and recapture their chemistry, the Pizza Line has the potential to re-emerge as one of the most dominant forward units in the NHL. Even that might not be enough for the Senators, but it’s the only real chance they have if they want to improve their fortunes. Hartsburg has to play the daylights out of them and hope the other three units and the special teams can at least not lose the Sens too many games.

A lack of depth is a reality for everyone in the salary cap world and the Senators are no exception. When three players take up one-third of your cap space, they should be leaned upon to do most of the heavy lifting.

The Senators also need that kind of decisiveness when it comes to goaltending. Last night’s game against Atlanta marked Alex Auld’s ninth straight start and it’s now clear Hartsburg has placed his goaltending fortunes on the 27-year-old career backup. That shouldn’t change with one or two bad outings. Hartsburg has to stick with Auld and show him the coach has confidence in his goalie.

Because the alternative is a very fragile Martin Gerber, a goalie the Senators know is capable of supplying outstanding goaltending at times, but is unable to sustain his play over a prolonged period.

This column also appears in the Ottawa Metro newspaper.

Ken Campbell is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

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