Dreamy optimism meets harsh reality in embarrassing Ottawa

General Manager Bryan Murray to the Toronto Sun on Mats Sundin eliminating the Ottawa Senators from his list of potential destinations:

"I'm sure it had something to do with the standings, but I'm sure it had lots to do with Ottawa versus Toronto and, obviously, with him wanting to sign with a team that will be a finalist."

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk on Toronto's FAN590 Monday afternoon regarding Ottawa's fortunes the rest of the season:

"Come March, they're going to talk about the miracle turnaround of the Ottawa Senators."

"I fully expect us to be in the top four teams in the conference."

Almost what you'd expect from a general manager who's paid to be a realist and an optimistic owner whose deep pockets keeps things flowing.

So what's gone wrong in Canada's capital city this season? 

For starter's, every team in the National Hockey League knows that Ottawa is still a one-line team. Shut down the Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson line and there's a good chance you're going home with two points.

It's obvious in the stat columns. The "Big Three" lead the Senators in points with the next highest scoring forward, that thug Mike Fisher with nine points. The likes of Nick Foligno and Jesse Winchester are still too early in their development to rely on for chunks of ice time or production. Oft-rumored trade bait Antoine Vermette is coming off a career year with 24 goals and 53 points, but is struggling with only five points so far.

Between the pipes, you can't blame the goaltending for Ottawa's woes. Coach Craig Hartsburg has found his man in Alex Auld who's done the job with nine wins and 2.21 goals-against average, while Martin Gerber collects his $3.7 million paycheck from the bench. 

Comparing Ottawa from last season to this season and you'll notice two important categories going in opposite directions from a year ago. The Senators were first in the NHL last season averaging 3.15 goals/game. This year, they've dropped almost one full goal to 2.32 goals/game. Auld has helped defensively, bringing down Ottawa's 2.95 goals-against/game average from a year ago to 2.39 this season.

Can the Senators really be expected to be contenders with okay goaltending and zero secondary scoring?

Sherry from Scarlett Ice is coming to the realization that this Senators team may not be the team many expected this season after Ottawa lost 4-1 to Atlanta last night:

How many closed door players only meetings is it going to take? How many poor showings, garbage cans thrown and cute animals threatened with tears is it going to take for this team to get their flipping act together? I wish I understood what was wrong with this team. Is it possible that we were just this terrible but everybody had the blinders on? We've been fooling everybody and accounts are coming due (How is that for muddled metaphors?)

Does Bryan Murray try to shake up the Senators with a Jason Spezza trade? Ottawa has only a handful of upcoming free agents this summer, so if there's any sort of turnover to be had, Murray will need to start hitting the phones; otherwise the Senators will have their longest off-season since 1996-97, when they last failed to make the playoffs.

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