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Senators coach 'real excited' about team's future

Playoff experience, young prospects have MacLean eager for his second season

Friday, 27.04.2012 / 2:21 PM / 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs
By Rob Brodie  - OttawaSenators.com
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Senators coach \'real excited\' about team\'s future
Senators head coach Paul MacLean is all smiles about his team's future in the wake of their seven-game playoff ouster at the hands of the heavily-favoured New York Rangers (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

September can't come soon enough for Paul MacLean.

In the minutes after his first season behind the Senators bench ended in heartbreaking fashion, the Ottawa head coach couldn't help thinking about getting started all over again. About continuing to build on a campaign that saw his team come remarkably close to authoring a shocker of a first-round Stanley Cup playoff upset.

"We're real excited going home and looking forward to next year," a smiling MacLean said in the wake of Thursday's 2-1 setback at the hands of the New York Rangers and the seventh and deciding game of what turned out to be a highly competitive Eastern quarter-final that matched the conference's first and eighth-seeded teams.

"I'm really looking forward to getting back to work (in training camp) and getting ready to go."

It's difficult to imagine the series between the Senators and Blueshirts being any tighter. Five of the seven games were decided by a single goal, with New York outscoring Ottawa 14-13 overall. And the Rangers were hanging on by their fingernails as the Senators pressed hard for the tying goal in the dying minutes on Thursday night, with a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden barely able to catch its breath.

Afterward, MacLean was clearly filled with pride about the efforts of a group that started out the season 1-5-0 and was outscored 30-15 in the process — looking very much like the team many experts predicted would wind up near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. But by Thursday night, when they'd emptied their tanks at the 'world's most famous arena,' the Senators made it obvious they'd taken some huge strides since that woeful beginning.

"We're real excited about our team and the steps that we took this season (after) how we started," said MacLean, who is rightly among the top contenders for the Jack Adams Award, presented annually to the National Hockey League's coach of the year (the three finalists will be unveiled on Monday). "We talked all season long about building blocks and building a foundation of winning. In the last month, I thought we really grew as a team and had some real good growth within our group."

As a first-year NHL head coach, MacLean and assistants Dave Cameron and Mark Reeds needed time to figure out exactly what they had on hand in terms of talent. What they quickly discovered was that — in captain Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Chris Phillips and Chris Neil — the necessary veteran leadership core was rock solid. Over the course of the season, young talents such as Colin Greening, Zack Smith, Erik Condra and mid-season trade acquisition Kyle Turris showed they'll be important parts of the Senators' future.

Blueliner Erik Karlsson, with a breakout 78-point season, gave every indication he's on the verge of superstar status. In the playoffs, MacLean and Co. got a first-hand glimpse at forward prospects Jakob Silfverberg and Mark Stone, and both gave evidence of why Senators hockey management is so high on their future. And there are more on the way, most notably Mika Zibanejad, the team's top pick (sixth overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

"I'm really excited about the players we have and the growth we saw in players like (20-year-old defenceman Jared) Cowen and Karlsson and Kyle Turris. I thought Silfverberg was a really good player and showed some good stuff. Mark Stone came in and played real good. Alfie was outstanding. (Nick) Foligno grew. The whole team grew a little bit.

"For me, it's just exciting to look down the road at the players we have. If we continue to do our job and make sure we continue to grow as a group and make everybody accountable, we're going to be smiling one day."

The grit and character the Senators showed against a heavily-favoured Rangers team also adds to that optimism. MacLean is eager to keep building on it.

"When you get near the end of the season and into the playoffs, that's when you find out who can operate under pressure, and who can make plays and do things when you're really under the gun. In the last 4-5 games of the regular season, until we clinched a playoff spot ... and in these seven playoff games, I think we learned tons about ourselves as players and coaches.

"The combination of all of that is going to make us better down the road and we look forward to that opportunity."

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

ATLANTIC DIVISION
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - BOS 82 54 19 9 261 177 117
2 x - TBL 82 46 27 9 240 215 101
3 x - MTL 82 46 28 8 215 204 100
4 x - DET 82 39 28 15 222 230 93
5 OTT 82 37 31 14 236 265 88
6 TOR 82 38 36 8 231 256 84
7 FLA 82 29 45 8 196 268 66
8 BUF 82 21 51 10 157 248 52

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
E. Karlsson 82 20 54 -15 74
J. Spezza 75 23 43 -26 66
K. Turris 82 26 32 22 58
C. MacArthur 79 24 31 12 55
B. Ryan 70 23 25 7 48
A. Hemsky 75 13 30 -15 43
M. Michalek 82 17 22 -25 39
M. Zibanejad 69 16 17 -15 33
M. Methot 75 6 17 0 23
P. Wiercioch 53 4 19 -1 23
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Anderson 25 16 8 .911 3.00
R. Lehner 12 15 6 .913 3.06