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Allen Panzeri
The Ottawa Citizen
Sunday, October 15, 2006

Murray sends message to team's big guns with choice of shooters

MONTREAL - They gave themselves more trouble than any team trying to find its way out of a miserable slump needs.

The Ottawa Senators, now 2-3-0, got only their second win of this young season last night.

They had to go to a shootout to do it, finally getting past the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 after letting the Canadiens tie the game on a goal by Sergei Samsonov with just 3:23 left.

The victory came courtesy of shootout goals from Antoine Vermette and Mike Fisher, who, with Dean McAmmond, an unusual shootout lineup. If you thought that was intended to send a message to the team's big shooters -- Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson -- you were right.

They haven't been playing especially well and Senators coach Bryan Murray has liked the way Vermette, McAmmond and Fisher have looked in practice. Plus, when you're feeling pressure, you might as well shuffle the chairs on the deck.

Denis Hamel and Chris Kelly scored in regulation to round out an unlikely list of Ottawa scorers.

Murray and everyone else had to admit that being able to return home with a win was blessed relief. It would have been crushing if the Senators lost this one after playing so well for most of the game.

In fact, when Murray appeared after the game, his first comment was addressed to his real and imagined critics. "Well, I won't get fired today," he said. "I've got another week left."

Then, seriously, Murray offered that the victory gave the Senators a psychological lift.

"It was really disappointing when they scored," Murray said. "It was a good play, but it would have been really disheartening if we had gone on to lose in a shootout. This is a relief, and it gets a little of the monkey off our back."

Despite allowing Samsonov's tying goal and a first-period short-handed score to Chris Higgins, Senators netminder Ray Emery played another solid game. He faced 25 shots.

Whether that heightens any perceived goaltending controversy with Martin Gerber will be fodder for the next few days.

Montreal's Cristobal Huet faced 27 shots.

Scoring the winner was extra special for Vermette, whose parents and his sister were in the stands.

"It's nice for the team to get one here," he said. "We found a way to win in the shootout. We did good things (last night), so we feel good. It was huge. We have another long week of practice and we didn't want to go there with the attitude that we lost another game."

While Murray said he and his assistants have been considering a revised shootout lineup for a while, he said it was also a message to the team's big guns because "certainly (last night) they didn't deserve to take the shots."

Spezza didn't dispute that. "We haven't been playing well, so he was right to change it up, and we won."

The Senators were full merit for the 2-1 lead they carried out of the first period.

Hamel scored through terrific second effort, fighting off Craig Rivet and beating Huet with a backhander at the left post. Then Patrick Eaves worked hard to circle the net and throw a pass across the crease to the right post, where Kelly was able to knock it in.

The only blemish was a power play that was a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong for the Senators since the season started.

First Daniel Alfredsson couldn't hold the puck in at the right point, forcing a rink-long retreat to get it.

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