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Flailing offence drags down Ottawa

Cory Clouston, meet Mike Bossy.

The beleaguered head coach of the stumbling Ottawa Senators caused a few eyebrows to skyrocket Wednesday, when he suggested it is possible to "teach" scoring and is, in fact, a coach's responsibility - especially when his team has barely averaged a goal a game over the last five matches.

"You can't just wipe your hands of it," he says.

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A coach, Clouston says, is the one who must come up with the plan, the players have to execute that plan and, at some point, pucks have to start going into the net.

It needs to happen soon, as the Senators play their 30th game of the 2010-11 NHL season Thursday, at home against the New York Rangers, and are slipping quickly below the eighth-seed bar that determines who goes to the playoffs and who goes home to forget.

Eighteen years ago, when the reborn Senators were just starting out, they could not score either - and a call went out for Mike Bossy. Bossy, then-general manager Mel Bridgman thought, could be brought in as a "scoring consultant."

Why not? Baseball has hitting coaches, does it not? And who better than Bossy, the Hall of Famer who had retired early after a remarkable career with the New York Islanders in which he had scored 51 or more goals in nine consecutive seasons.

Bossy thought the suggestion an excellent idea and waited for a confirmation that never came. He called, but no one got back to him. So a reporter contacted Bossy at his Montreal home and asked what he would have said he had been brought in.

"Scoring is done instinctively," he said. "The shot itself, if it's thought about, is not the same as if it's done instinctively.

"You can't teach when to shoot, but you can teach how to get into position to score."

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With much being made lately of the current Senators' inability even to hit the net - as in Jason Spezza finding himself all alone against Montreal last Tuesday and missing - Bossy's 18-year-old message bears repeating.

"They always talked about my quick release," Bossy said. "That was more a matter of survival than anything else. But one of the things I hated to do was waste a shot. I'm probably the guy who wasted fewer shots than anyone who ever played the game.

"Aiming for me was a waste of time. For me, the object was to hit the net."

Perhaps the Senators could begin there. The team is in such fragile shape these days that Clouston's lineup changes are daily.

On Wednesday, he had Ottawa's $5-million-man, Alex Kovalev, on some makeshift fifth line (is that possible?) with Ryan Shannon on the opposite wing and Peter Regin and Jesse Winchester alternating at centre.

Winchester, a pure journeyman, is the singular Senators player this season whose star can honestly be said to be on an upward curve. Kovalev, on the other hand, is on a $1-million-per-game pace - presuming he eventually plays five half-decent games this season - and is thought to be one more lazy outing away from being benched.

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Even dependable captain Daniel Alfredsson, 38 this Saturday, has hit what he thinks is the worst "drought" of his life: eight games without a goal or an assist.

The Senators fan base has let its disenchantment known through empty seats and angry calls. Gossip is on full torque in the nation's capital, with everything predicted from a major trade to Clouston's firing. Some have even called for a "2-for-1" canning of both general manager Bryan Murray and Clouston along the lines of the January of 1996 purge that brought in GM Pierre Gauthier and coach Jacques Martin and set the team on the road to respectability.

Bring in Pierre McGuire from the broadcast booth or Jim Nill from Detroit, they say. Bring in Bob Hartley, Kirk Muller, Ken Hitchcock, (your preferred name here). …

None of this would be new to Murray, who has been in hockey long enough to have lived through numerous streaks in both directions. He once told reporters in Anaheim, when he with the Ducks, that they might just as well "use the same quotes" they'd gone with the day before and the day before that. "It's the same story," he said.

So, too, it has been the same story for some time now in Ottawa.

"We have to start scoring," Clouston says.

"We're capable of scoring goals," Spezza says. "We just have to rediscover our touch."

"Get the offence going," Alfredsson says, "and it will take care of all the other problems."

And if it doesn't get going, perhaps that return call to Mike Bossy might be in order.

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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More

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