When Bryan Murray hired Craig Hartsburg this summer as the Senators' new head coach, he was pretty confident Hartsburg would turn the team around after a horrendous finish last season.
However, 29 games into the 2008-09 season, the Senators are sitting at the bottom on the Eastern Conference, only five points in front of bottom-dweller Tampa Bay after losing 4-1 to the 13th place Atlanta Thrashers on home ice.
GM Murray signed Hartsburg to a three-year contract last June to replace John Paddock who had been fired in February. After a torrid start under Paddock, the Senators stumbled, leading to his firing at the end of February. Murray, who is not known as a patient general manager, finished the season behind the bench.
This season the Senators have had troubles scoring goals, averaging only 2.3 goals/game after finishing second overall offensively last season. Secondary scoring has been a problem all season, as Mike Fisher (3 g, 6 a, 9 points), Antoine Vermette (2 g, 3 a, 5 points), and Nick Foligno (4 g, 4 a, 8 points) haven't been able to get going as they are in a season-long slump.
The top pairing of Anton Volchenkov (-10) and Chris Phillips (-12) have been the Sens worst defensive pairing this season despite being a defensive force during the past few years.
Murray, because of the salary cap, hasn't been able to add a puck-moving defenseman or veteran forward to help boost his anemic offense.
And since Murray will not fire himself because of his inability to make a trade, Hartsburg is the likely scapegoat if the players don't turn things around. They don't seem enticed to play for Hartsburg as their past showings have been dreadful, being 1-3-1 in their last five games during which they have managed only seven goals while allowing 15 goals.
The recent call-ups of Brian Lee and Ilya Zubov haven't done anything to save this sinking ship.
The Pizza line is not producing anymore, Heatley is pointless in his last four games (-4), Spezza has been meaningless in his last four (-3), and captain Alfredsson has only one goal, an empty netter, during that span.
The Senators still have three games to play before the Christmas hiatus, visiting the Devils and the Flyers, two hot teams, and receiving the Stars, a team on the rise lately.
Should his team fail to earn four points out of six, look for Murray to pull the trigger and let Hartsburg go after Christmas.