'The right guy to right the ship'
Players feel sad for Hartsburg but looking forward with new head coach
But several Ottawa Senators players know exactly what they're getting from the head coach who has replaced Craig Hartsburg behind their bench. Clouston makes his National Hockey League coaching debut on Tuesday night, when the Senators face off against the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).
"I think he's a no-nonsense kind of guy," said Brendan Bell, one of five players on the team's current active roster who played for Clouston when he was the bench boss with the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League. "He means what he says and he follows through on things. He's the right guy to right the ship, hopefully."
Though they were a spirited bunch on the ice during this afternoon's practice at Scotiabank Place, players on the team talked in rather sombre tones about the coaching change that general manager Bryan Murray deemed necessary Sunday night in the wake of the Senators' 7-4 loss to the Capitals in Washington earlier in the day. Nobody wanted it to come to this but a 17-24-7 start sealed Hartsburg's fate after only 48 games in Ottawa.
"We were sad," forward Nick Foligno said about the decision to change coaches. "We all liked Craig. I don't think any guy in this room didn't like Craig ... We feel bad about the situation and we wish it could have worked out. But that's the business and we have to move forward and get wins.
"(The change) is just a matter of some new flavour, maybe, and trying to get us back on track. We're not where we need to be and that's the problem right now. We need to get back to being the good hockey club that we know we are ... We've got to play for whoever's behind the bench and we know coach Clouston is going to do a good job."
Added Bell: "Unfortunately for us, we did this to Craig and, hopefully, we can realize that and get this thing going the right way."
While Clouston admits he'd never describe himself as a "player's coach," the guys who have played for him tell the story of a coach who's daily goal is to get the most out of everyone he sends over the boards.
"(Clouston) is a guy that hates losing as much as the next guy," said goaltender Brian Elliott. "He's going to try to get the full potential out of you, whether you like it or not. He tells it like it is and sometimes it might not be what you want to hear but he'll let you know it and, hopefully, you'll be better in the end."
Added defenceman Brian Lee: "He's a hard coach but if you work hard, you gain his respect and that's probably what we need around here. He's going to be on guys that are not working hard or making soft plays and that's a really good fit here."
Clouston said he simply wants "to create an environment where the players like to come to the rink, the players know exactly what's expected of them, they know how they're supposed to play, they know the parameters in which they're supposed to play and allow them to go out there and do their job. If you do that, I think you'll have a successful team."
Job No. 1, at least in Clouston's mind, is perking up a Senators offence that has ranked at the bottom of the NHL in goal scoring for most of the season. A year ago, Ottawa had the league's second-best attack and Clouston believes the parts are on hand to point things back in a more offensive direction.
"For the most part, every team I've coached has been at or near the top in goals (scored)," he said. "Our power play in Binghamton has been first (in the AHL) all year. I still think you can be (responsible) in your defensive zone –- that's where it all starts – but I really believe this team is a lot better offensively and they just need to have a little bit more of a plan to create that offence.
"I thought today’s practice was upbeat. I thought the guys had a lot of jump. We made a few adjustments that I think the guys are going to appreciate and enjoy and, hopefully, that will generate a little more offence without sacrificing our defensive play."
The Senators like what they've seen in that area already from their new coach.
"Cory is a fiery guy ... He's going to change the way we play a little bit. Our offence has been pretty much non-existent on a lot of nights. Every mistake we make gets magnified because we can’t make it up, we can’t score that goal to overcome it."
Most of all, Clouston wants to help breathe some confidence into a team that has been sorely lacking in that area in recent weeks.
"We have to make sure that we remind these guys that they are a good team – they were that close to winning the Stanley Cup (in 2007)," he said. "But we also have to create some excitement by making a few changes and showing them that, with just little slight alterations to certain things we’re doing, we can be a better team quite quickly."
Around the boards
Defenceman Alex Picard, who suffered an upper body injury on Sunday in Washington, didn't practise today but Clouston said it's too soon to assess his lineup for tomorrow night. A starting goaltender has yet to be announced, either. "It's been a whirlwind today, guys," said Clouston with a grin ... Fewer than 2,250 tickets remain for Tuesday's game, while 3,000 are left for Thursday's game against the Boston Bruins and 2,500 for Saturday's visit by the Buffalo Sabres.