Murray Speaks: EK, Smith, Boro, Team Writ Large

Following a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, Bryan Murray joined Jason York and Steve Lloyd In the Box Wednesday morning to talk about the game, the play of a few particular individuals (Karlsson, Boro, Smith, and more!), as well as how closely he is monitoring the trade block.

Murray did hit on a few topics (ie. setting up Montreal’s game on Thursday and discussing topics that he wants to address at the next GM meetings) that I didn’t bother transcribing, so if you’re interested in listening to the full interview, you can do so here, or via the embed below.

As always, my thoughts in bold.

On winning last night and hopefully setting up a bit of a run with the next five games being at home…

“Well, we haven’t played as well at home certainly as we should have been able to and I think it had a lot to do with confidence. What I saw in the Dallas game, I think after Erik Karlsson scored to get it back to a 2-1 game, the team looked like they were a different hockey team. They played with more confidence and they started trying to attack the net and I felt that that continued last night in Columbus. Columbus have a big, strong club now and they’re a good looking hockey club and they’re going to win lots of games. But to go in there and win 4 to 1, and play with the level of confidence and the effort that we got from a lot of players was a real positive, and you’re right, now it sets up – we’ve got a home stand and we’ve got to take some strides here to continue this.”

I made a similar point in yesterday’s Game Day Preview at SenatorsExtra:

"From the approximate halfway mark of the first period to the point in time when Chris Neil had finished serving his four minute minor for high-sticking Brenden Dillon at around the 7:00 minute mark of the second period, the Stars were dominating the Senators possession-wise. They were outshooting, outchancing and outscoring Ottawa. (Note: After one period, the Senators were 19-9; good enough to be on pace to allow 57 shots on goal.)

But, Ottawa seemed to build momentum off of that kill – with Erik Karlsson ultimately scoring and getting Ottawa on the board shortly thereafter. Whether by luck or design, Ottawa managed to limit the number of shots (18) over the course of the second and third periods. In consequence, fans desperately seeking some positive affirmation will definitely be monitoring tonight’s shot totals.

Considering Columbus have lost three straight games and only mustered 19 shots against the Penguins on Saturday, the Blue Jackets seem like a good candidate for some shot suppression."

The way that Ottawa has played over their past 90 minutes certainly gives some reason for optimism. But it's kinda hard to take much out of beating a Curtis McElhinney backstopped Columbus Blue Jackets, even if they were on the road.

On the team looking slow and that being a product of the team not trying to lose the game instead of trying to win…

“Well, I really felt that we weren’t moving the puck – that was the big thing that was very obvious to me. We were slow getting the puck out of our own end. We were giving second and third chances to the opposition. We’d get a chance to find an open man not that far ahead and we’d look for a homerun pass instead of making the safe (play) and the right play. And it did, it looked like we were, number one – we’ve gone through it a number of times, but it looked like you weren’t going to win another hockey game. It looked like you couldn’t make a play to save your life and the goaltending just had to play outstanding to keep us in games. And (the goaltenders) were doing that, but you can only do that for so long (before it catches up to you). So to see the kind of turnaround in I think the mental state of our hockey team was the most positive thing for me. I thought the guys felt real good about themselves after the game last night and now we have to build on that, there’s no question.”

Still seeing at least one fire drill a game, which is better than the earlier two or three…a period.

Hopefully they build on it better than that "statement game" win @ Detroit we heard so much about.

On Karlsson’s progress and his ability to make plays right now – like the first goal that he scored and how many defenceman can make that play?

“I don’t think there’s anybody else who really does it and that’s the good point. I think Erik looks now like he’s skating. He’s in good shape. He feels more comfortable and looks more comfortable on the ice. He’s passing the puck and joining the rush. Last night on the empty net goal even, he made that one play and then jumped and got ahead of everybody almost, so his skating legs are his game and when he gets back to where we think he is getting to now, that will have a great influence on the team. But beyond that, Clarke MacArthur is just flying. He’s working and he’s backchecking. I mean, the things that some of our players are doing now… Jason (Spezza) is starting to shoot the puck at the net more often and Bobby Ryan we know is going to score goals. So as we go through the list of people, I don’t know that I’ve seen Zack Smith skate better than he has in the last four or five games, so when we get that type of result starting to happen, certainly the team will be considerably better, I’ve got to believe.”

Now that Karlsson’s returning to his pre-injury form, eyes will inevitably shift to others who spent the bulk of last season missing chunks of time – like Jason Spezza, Jared Cowen and Milan Michalek.

Thanks to the chemistry, production and dominant puck possession that the MacArthur, Turris and Ryan trio have provided, you’d have to imagine that Spezza can’t be happy with the constant line juggling and revolving wingers that he has played with over the course of the past few games. To his credit, Colin Greening, has looked more assertive in his past two games and a number of individuals have been pining for Mika Zibanejad to have a chance with Spezza, so if these two can log some consistent minutes and develop some chemistry with Spezza, it will be one problem off Ottawa’s plate. But if Zibanejad in particular cannot click with Spezza, I'm not too sure what Plan B is.

On Bobby Ryan being impressed the most by Zack Smith since arriving in Ottawa…

“Well, I don’t think Zack was this good of a player until this year. He was a good player and he looked like he had a lot of growth to take place, but until he started to do it, and I think the difference in his game now is his skating just looks a lot sharper. He’s got the big body. He’s a physical presence for us. It looks like he can win faceoffs, but the skating now has allowed him to do things that I don’t think he’s ever been able to do before and that’s (a sign) of a young player growing up. We’ve got a number of young guys that we know are going to get better in the organization but Zack’s a great example for me of the time it takes some players to get there.”

Yeah, I really noticed Zack Smith’s speed last night when he carried the puck out of Ottawa’s end through the neutral zone only to have the play whistled dead because Chris Neil took it upon himself to drop the mitts. Can’t take anything from Smith though – he has certainly looked better than he played during the lockout shortened season.

I do find Murray’s final comment to be intriguing because I think it gives us a little insight into why he gave the extensions he did to Jared Cowen, Patrick Wiercioch and Colin Greening. Although he possibly overpaid slightly for the first year or so of their deals, it’s evident that the organization believes that their continued growth and development will make them cost-effective players in the latter few years of their deals.

On Mark Borowiecki and the defence simplifying things…

“Well he gives us a lot of sandpaper, there’s no question. He’s a real tough, competitive guy and a well-conditioned guy. He likes to run into people – sometimes he likes it too much. But as you say, if he simplifies (the game) the way (he plays as) he has in this call-up, he’s a real good presence for us. There’s no doubt about it. But, the tough part is, we’ve got now eight defencemen here and sitting out two guys here every night is a difficult thing to do. So, we’ll have to see what Paul (MacLean) wants to do going forward – as far as who we dress and that type of thing. But certainly Mark… it was a tough decision at training camp (to cut him). We knew if we kept him here, he would contend and be a good player for us. We’re just going to play it game-by-game now and hopefully his presence continues to be a big factor.”

Of those eight defenceman two are waiver exempt, Boro and Cowen. Yes, Cowen is still waiver exempt which nobody seems to talk about, probably because it's hard to send a guy down you just gave a four year contract to.

Obviously Borowiecki’s waiver exemption affords the organization the flexibility to return him to Binghamton without having to worry about losing a roster player for nothing, but it’s not like Gryba or Corvo are long-term solutions either. In the case of Corvo, he becomes more and more expendable as the first power play unit consists of four forwards and two minutes of Karlsson excellence.

I don’t know what the market value of a depth defenceman like Gryba would be; however, he seems like the kind of guy whose size and style would be overvalued by some anachronistic front office types who are blind to the evolution of today’s NHL-game.

On if the team continued to struggle whether he was prepared to make a move or whether he likes the mix of players that he has…

“Well, I certainly like our team. I was disappointed as everyone was that we weren’t winning games. I mean, we were close some nights and terrible other nights and you wonder if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but I think the group is a good group. I think we’ve got some real talent. I think we’ve got some big guys. I think we played fairly physical when we had to. I think last night, we showed that with urgency, it was there. We had guys sticking up for each other. We don’t necessarily tell them that they have to go fight, but having four fights in the game certainly set a tone for the attitude. There’s no question about that, but I say all of that, and you have to be on the phone regularly here in this business and see what teams are looking to do and be part of it, if you can. So I’ll continue to look, but as I say, I certainly like the group and I like the depth. And we’ve got a few kids in the minors that we know can come up, but it’s about winning right now, so we’re going to try to do what we have to do to win.”

Last week I blogged on the alleged trade talks between Ottawa and Florida, but as the Miami Herald noted today, Florida GM Dale Tallon is publically not content with his roster:

“There will be changes though,'' Tallon said outside the arena. "I don't make rash decisions. None of us are happy. I have to fix this and I will. We're better than this.”

They’re probably not much better than this, but I’d be surprised if the organization doesn’t start peddling its vets. Kris Versteeg has been pretty outspoken in the wake of being made a healthy scratch, and I can’t imagine that he’s long for the organization. Nevertheless, at an average annual cap hit of $4.4 million that lasts through the 2015/16 season, I can’t imagine Ottawa or many other teams for that matter would be willing to absorb that contract.

Maybe there’s a fit if Ottawa can move some quantity for quality, but even then, I can’t envision Florida moving any of its better young assets; especially if Tallon is looking to make his team better.

But if Florida want to give unload Huberdeau for pennies on the dollar, I'm sure the Sens would consider it. Seem to remember someone telling Pierre Dorion to "just take both number elevens".

Murray’s last comment about “winning right now” is certainly interesting. For one, I think it’s the first actual acknowledgement from the organization – I mean apart from the fact that the organization gave up two future assets in Noesen and a 2014 first rounder and Jakob Silfverberg for as few as two years of Bobby Ryan – that they’re trying to win now.

It’s probably a difficult balance for Murray – in "win now mode" without having the luxury of being able to spend to the salary cap ceiling. For a team with limited financial resources, the last thing it can afford to do is spread its assets too thin for some short-term success. And Bryan Murray knows this first-hand – after all, he’s the guy who inherited John Muckler’s barren cupboards.

On significant trades already this NHL season and whether it has surprised him…

“Well no, right now every point is so important. I think half the games last night were ties and shootouts or overtime wins, so it’s hard to make up a lot of points if you get behind. When you lose a few games, and I’ve talked to a number of managers in that boat, you lose a few games and all of a sudden, you want to do something to turn the tide around so that you have a chance to get into the playoffs. Because there is a real urgency to do that now and there are very comparable teams across the board and we just, you can’t let it slide.”

This sounds a lot like the lesson Elliotte Friedman drew from his "November 1st stat" that I linked earlier. Thanks to these extra points which inflate the record of crappy teams that can’t win in regulation (parity!), it’s increasingly difficult for teams to gain ground in the standings.

On Craig Anderson’s status and whether he’s close to returning…

“Well, I don’t think he’s doing anything today other than therapy and a little bit of off-ice stuff, but I haven’t talked to the trainer this morning about any timetable. But, I would think by the weekend that he could probably get some activity going – whether it be on the ice or whether it be just in the gym. But he’ll get back fairly quickly. I think knowing Craig, I would say though that we would want to be careful through this weekend and then see what happens early in the (next) week.”

From earlier today:

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