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NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE MEDIA CONFERENCE
May 7, 2007
DAVID KEON: With us now we have Ottawa Senators Head Coach Bryan Murray. Thanks to Bryan for taking the time today to answer your questions and thanks to Phil LeGold, the Senators Public Relations Department, for helping to arrange the call.
On Saturday, Ottawa finished their second round matchup by defeating the New Jersey Devils 3 to 2 to take the series 4 games to 1. The Senators will open the Eastern Conference finals later this week at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo when they'll meet their divisional rivals, the Sabres for Games 1 and 2.
Q. My question is about the departure of Zdeno Charo. I know he's a guy that's talented enough you don't want to lose his skills. But in losing him, how has this defense evolved and, specifically, Chris Phillips?
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: I think two things happened. Phillips became more important and certainly played at a real high level this year and Anton Volchenkov got a chance moving from No. 5 really in our depth chart to No. 2 as a shutdown guy.
I think the two of them developed as a real solid pair, obviously a big part of what's happened here. And defensively and shot blocking-wise we haven't taken a step backwards.
I think Charo was certainly a top player in our team and played the point in the power play on occasions and did lots of good things. But like in every other team in this business, when you lose a player, you have to move on; and we've been able to do that.
Q. Just wanted to ask about Volchenkov and Phillips, your shutdown pair. With the Sabres providing so much balance, is there a real plan in how you're going to use them, or are you going to be playing them against the hot line every night?
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: We will have a plan as we get into the series, see what Lindy does with his line combinations at that time. I think he made a couple of changes to play against the Rangers to get a defensive or checking line.
But we'll have to figure out a way to match, there's no question. They have more offensive talent than the two teams to this point anyway that we've played. So they'll be important in the series, and hopefully they'll do the same type of job as they've been able to do so far.
Q. One of the questions I had was actually about Volchenkov, which you just answered. Another one, are you surprised at all that you've been able to, especially in the last round, to have so much success with really just riding your big line of Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson?
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: They've been awfully good, and certainly been a big part of what we've been able to do offensively. I think other guys have played well. I think we'll expect a little more of the Fisher line from a point contribution as we go forward.
But surprised? I'm not surprised really at anything that these three have done together. I think they've really grown up and matured, whatever the right word is, as far as playing together, being responsible and creating, they're very difficult to shut down totally, there's no question.
Q. Coach, in terms of changing gears, is there a more drastic change than preparing for the Devils and going to the Buffalo Sabres?
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: The Devils we know have the reputation, and rightly so, of being a great defensive team and being a position team and not maybe having attacking style that Buffalo will have. But very definitely Buffalo now fit more like the Pittsburgh team did. They've had a, I felt Pittsburgh had a couple of real good lines. It was a very physical series, and I think we now know that Buffalo is going to be that way.
They have more than two lines. I think they have three lines that are very creative, very offensive-minded, and I think they relate a little closer to Pittsburgh. But we know that we have to play defense first no matter who we play.
Q. The way you guys skate, though, are you more comfortable playing one way or the other?
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: I think that we thought we had to play a little more responsible or a little more conservative against New Jersey. They really feed off turnovers and puck possession as far as playing position and doing the safe things.
I think Buffalo played more attacking style, and I think we're more comfortable with that.
Q. One, could you just talk about sort of the evolution of Emery as a goalkeeper, how far he's come?
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: First of all, we knew him as a real good athlete. I think he's got quickness. He's got real strength. He's a real strong individual.
The one thing that I saw happen to him was that technically he got better as the year went on last year and then over the summer he definitely spent some time in this game. I think that technically he's much better than he was a year ago.
I think athletically he's learned that you have to catch the puck, you have to do all those things. But position and just being square to the puck is more important.
And I think mentally he's just so much better right now. I think his commitment to becoming a better goaltender and the experience of last year in the playoffs and all the things that go into making a guy a good athlete and good goaltender in particular is, we say it's time but it's just going the through the process of games and he had that opportunity because of the injury to (indiscernible) last year.
Q. You can say last summer you guys lost maybe the most coveted defenseman in the league because of his size and other factors.
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: Yes, there was no question -- Charo, that was disappointing from my point of view as well. I really felt we lost a couple of guys that were a big part of this organization. And Charo was a shutdown guy on his own. He was on the ice a lot of minutes, roughly 30 minutes in a game, and we were very, very concerned coming into this year.
I guess Anton Volchenkov stepping up the way he has helped fill the void a little bit. And I think the other thing that's happened is our third pair with Joe Corvo, in particular, the second half of the year is starting to play a lot better kind of offset the loss to some extent. But it's hard to lose top players in this league now, and we know a number of teams will have to go through this over the next couple of years.
Q. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, how do you prevent this from being deja vu all over again, especially after last year's loss to Sabres and with no modern Senators having won the Cup?
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: It's a very different hockey team than last year. I think when I came here last year I saw a team with a lot of flare and ability to score goals and be an exciting hockey team to watch, but dependent, totally dependent almost on skill. We talked about changing, but it was difficult to do.
But I think the learning curve took place after the playoffs last year when we realized things had to be different.
So it's not deja vu as far as this team is concerned. The characteristics of the team are very different.
Q. Anything spooky about trying to go after the Sabres?
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: No, I think when you get to the Final Four in any sport, whether it be college basketball or pro basketball, hockey, I think you know you're playing motivated teams, teams with real strength in various areas. And we respect the Sabres a great deal and know that both of us are going to have our hands full.
I think it's going to be a terrific series, and whoever gets a break, great goaltending, plays to the potential, have a chance to win it.
Q. Bryan, a little bit more on the defensive end. Can you talk about the evolution of your team defensively from being kind of a race horse team to a team we saw against the Devils that really almost outdefended the masters of the trap?
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: We don't want to play the trap, but we do want to play hard defensively. And I think that players will buy in when they see there's a reason to buy in.
And what happened earlier in the year we weren't a very good hockey team. Last year against the Sabres we gave up far too many scoring chances in the round we played them.
So I think the selling point from our point of view is we had to try to make the playoffs. We had some injuries at a critical time of year for us, after a poor start, and I think they're all smart guys in this business. Players and all the teams now they know what they have to do most nights. So we worked at it. We talked about it a lot. We showed examples and the players just decided, I believe, that it was time to make a little change in our style and we've been able to do that.
Q. Sabres have talked today it was tough to get any real passion or hate, for better word, going against Rangers Islanders, that won't be tough in this series. Do you sense the same thing with your guys, the Sabres were the team you wanted to see in the wake of last year?
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: No, question. I think when you play playoff hockey against a team, things happen in a series, whether they're intentional or otherwise, that bring out the competitive juices. And you know we played them eight times again this year. So there's been a lot of contact between the two organizations and I think it's terrific.
I think that we thought that we were one of the good teams in the second half of the year and we knew they were the best team in the East for the most part of the year.
So I think it's a great matchup for us. I think both groups of players will be real excited about it.
Q. You touched on the buy-in, specifically with Heatley and Spezza, what do you attribute their buy in to playing a more complete game and how would you assess their play, obviously we've seen the offensive end, but as far as being more responsible?
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: I think they've been terrific. I think their play has really risen to the level needed for this organization to have any success going forward.
And I'm not sure the time frame or whatever exactly, but when we had the downtime earlier in the year, I think Dany Heatley had to step up and play both ways to give us a chance to even win the odd game.
And he's a hardworking kid. I felt when he came here that his practice habits were good. I think they've become really good. Spez, when he came back, the pressure was on, if he wanted to be regarded a top player in this league, he had to play a little better without the puck and he's certainly done that.
So that's to say I'm not exactly sure the timetable or whatever, but I think they're real competitive young men that want to be successful in their career and they understand the only way you can be is to get recognized at this time of year. Get to the Final Four, get to the Stanley Cup finals, if you possibly can, and that's when you get recognized for what you do and they certainly want that.
Q. Last year you directed a ton of pucks at Miller. What may you have to do differently this year to get the better results?
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: I think the same thing. I think we, both teams last year had lots of offense, lots of scoring chances. Goaltenders had to be good. In Game 1 he wasn't any better than we were, or goaltender was. We didn't take advantage of it.
I think we have great respect for Ryan. I think he's a top guy in this league and you have to have traffic and you have to put pucks to him and you have to hope that somehow or other you get a rebound occasionally. If you do that, then you have a chance.
Q. Just wondered, you touched on it briefly. But when you play a team 16 times plus five in the playoffs last year over two seasons, it seems to take some of the maybe mystery out of it when you start a series. How do you think it changes the tone or the start of a series compared to playing a team like New Jersey where you only see them four times in one year?
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: Well, I think the players are very, obviously they're very familiar. We know for the most part what they're going to try to do and they know what we're going to do. But it's who does it the best and most consistent. I think that's bottom line.
If you're willing to work hard and out battle a guy along the wall and do things then you have a chance to get scoring chances. If you don't battle with them, then you have a real problem. But as we go forward Lindy will try something I'm sure at the beginning of the series as we will and see if it works or not and we'll make adjustments accordingly.
Q. One quick follow-up on Ray Emery. Have you bought a new alarm clock? Have you instituted a new timing system to ensure punctuality?
COACH BRYAN MURRAY: I think he's got an alarm clock. I think we had a meeting today that will allow him to go do that. But he'll pay attention. I think he just went home and put his feet up on that occasion and missed the call.
DAVID KEON: Thanks very much, Bryan, for your time today.
Now we have Jason Spezza, who sits second in team scoring in the playoffs with five goals and seven assists for 12 points in 10 games.
Q. I wanted to ask you, what's been going on with you and your linemates? How can you explain the chemistry you have at both ends of the ice there?
JASON SPEZZA: Me and Dany have played together for the last couple of years now he's playing with us. I think we're just committed to playing the system right now. We're moving our feet. Getting pucks behind defensemen. That's where we're getting success.
Q. Do you have a little extra adrenalin going into this series just based on your past against Buffalo here going back to even last year in the playoffs?
JASON SPEZZA: I think definitely when you play a team as much as we have played each other in the last couple of years there's going to be some rivalries built. Didn't matter who we were playing. We are pretty focused. Know what we want to do. Doesn't matter who is in our way. We just make sure we give our best and get ready for whoever we're playing.
Q. Was this a team that you hoped you might see again?
JASON SPEZZA: I think we knew we were going to have to go through these guys to win, I think. They're the best team in the league all year. They finished first overall, and we had a good feeling this was going to be a team we were going to have to play along the way.
Q. Jason, what do you attribute some of the success you have had in the regular season against Buffalo this year?
JASON SPEZZA: Well, I think it's all game by game, but I think our special teams are good against them. I think the games that we won we really prevented giving them a lot of free scoring chances, and we didn't turn the puck over. And in general that's when we're best as a team when we're taking care of the puck.
With their dynamic offense, they can just kind of turn around and flip scoring chances on you any time you turn the puck over. You have to be real careful with the puck against them.
Q. A lot of people have been talking about Daniel Alfredsson, particularly the Canadian media, saying he's finally stepped up in the playoffs. Do you see him playing at a different level or doing anything different, or do you think he's always done it and is just coming together for the team and he's finally getting the recognition?
JASON SPEZZA: I think he's had consistent performance, but I think that -- (audio difficulties) pucks going in for him. Make it a better supporting cast around him and he's getting credits.
Q. A lot of guys here today said it was tough to get a lot of passion or hate, for a better word, against the Rangers or Islanders, but it will be relatively easy against the Senators. Did you find the same thing with Pittsburgh and New Jersey and won't be hard to get the passion flowing in this series?
JASON SPEZZA: We had a pretty exciting series against Pittsburgh, a lot of animosity, bad blood throughout the series. The Jersey series was a little bit different, more of a cat and mouse game, but I think definitely as you go on the emotions get higher, the passion gets higher and there shouldn't be a problem for getting up for games.
Q. What do you think you attribute the way your line brought into the defensive end of the game this year?
JASON SPEZZA: I think our failures last year against Buffalo kind of taught us in the start of the year, kind of showed us that we can score goals but we have to keep them out on a consistent basis. And every night we're not going to be able to score three or four goals as a line, that some nights it is just as good for us to be even and not get scored on. Probably just a little bit of experience, more maturity on our part.
Q. Looking at the opponents in the last round it was the Devils very defensive team and now it's almost like the exact opposite in facing Buffalo. Which style are you more comfortable playing against? Is it the wide open style or more of the tight defensive battle?
JASON SPEZZA: Well, I think the reason why we've been successful to this point is we've been comfortable playing both. Pittsburgh was similar to Buffalo, quick strike offensive team, and New Jersey really defensive. Probably not answering your questions. But I think we can play both styles. We've gotten a lot better with the lead and it doesn't really matter. I think game to game it's going to be different and I don't imagine there being too many high scoring games. If there is, we feel like we can put the puck in and win.
Q. Hasn't always been that way for you. Can you pinpoint part of the season where playing both ways really became more comfortable for you personally?
JASON SPEZZA: Once I got back from my injury, coach challenged me to play more and to play bigger minutes. Toward the end of the season I was getting a chance to play. The end of hockey games and taking face-offs, and doing things that you always work towards being the young offensive guy you want to really start changing your game. I think I got more comfortable as the season went on. More of a steady progress more than anything.
DAVID KEON: Thanks very much, Jason.
End of FastScripts