Senators coach Craig Hartsburg was in a grizzly mood yesterday when he met with the media. You know the earlier meeting he had with his players was likely less cordial. He is not at all happy with the way his team has played in its first 3 regular season games in North America. Lines have been shifted, players have been challenged and the most important point he is making is the idea of changing the way this team plays. It has to be harder, nastier, faster, less polite and more determined.
The word “soft” in the hockey world is a swear word. Rarely does a coach use it when talking about his own team but Hartsburg did. He says players have to understand things are going to change around this team and they had better buy in. He wants to shake up all the comfortable things. That cozy blanket of knowing Heatley and Spezza will play together, that Chris Neil will play with Mike Fisher, that Vermette and Kelly are inseparable. My father used to say to me “change is not to be feared, it is to be expected”. The Senators had better start expecting more of this.
Fly by’s on opposing defenceman will not be ignored. When a hit is there and it’s not taken, questions will be asked. When a forward is not skating full out on the forecheck a spot at the end of the bench awaits. When a defenceman fails to punish an opposing forward harsh words will be spoken.
Hartsburg has seen enough to know that this is a very talented team which is simply too polite and too often waiting for the big boys to do their magic thing with the puck and then everything will work out. Those days are over with this coach.
Most of the focus has been on Jason Spezza and his realignment with Foligno and Winchester, but others might not be on the media’s radar but you know they are on the coach’s. Chris Neil thought by many to be a 2nd line kind of guy is now one of 2 forwards (Donovan is the other) skating on the 4th line. One of them might be a healthy scratch on Wednesday.
The defence corps was supposed to be inferior in moving the puck, but superior in nastiness compared to last years top 6. Hartsburg has not seen enough of the nasty. Those are not expectations placed on Kuba and Lee, but they are on Smith, Phillips, Volchenkov and Picard. Right now Smith and Volchenkov are the only ones making the coach's grade.
This is not an overnight thing. Changing the way a team plays and its on-ice attitude does not happen with a few practices and some video. It will take some time and it may require the movement of some disgruntled players who ultimately don’t want to buy in, but it will happen.
I will be very interested to see the way this team plays by Christmas. My bet is that the type of game Hartsburg wants will be under the tree before the 25th.
See you at the rink.