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MacGregor: MacLean shuffles the deck hoping to ignite struggling Sens

Just before heading out, Paul MacLean took the vehicle he'll be riding to Florida off to Canadian Tire for a rather extensive overhaul.

The head coach could hardly have done more fiddling with the sputtering engine that is the 2013-14 Ottawa Senators.

At Canadian Tire Centre on Monday, he took Mike Hoffman, the second-leading scorer in the AHL, and moved him from the minor-league Binghamton Senators to the top line of the NHL team.

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Quick and crafty with a good shot and suspect size, Hoffman became, with the blow of a whistle, left winger on the season's one good line: Kyle Turris at centre, Bobby Ryan on right.

The coach broke up the one Senators line that had been working and moved Clarke MacArthur, Ottawa's best forward by a considerable stretch lately, and placed him with winger Mika Zibanejad and centre Jason Spezza in the hopes of giving the gifted Spezza someone to play with.

He took the left winger who had been playing for months with Spezza, Milan Michalek, and exiled the non-performing Czech to a checking line with Zack Smith and Chris Neil.

Then he created a new line, placing Colin Greening, with but a single goal in 25 games, at centre between penalty-kill specialist Erik Condra and struggling sophomore Cory Conacher.

And then the entire team worked on getting point shots from the defence.

Such a pick-up-sticks approach to lines is indicative of the near-desperate straits this team finds itself in, having lost four in a row at home and wilting under a 10-13-4 record that has them holding down 12th place in the Eastern Conference.

There is nothing to say this is the lineup MacLean will go with next game, but the mere jumbling of lines says much about a rising concern that this team remains less a sum than its parts.

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When the Senators hit the quarter-season mark in slightly better shape on Nov. 17, MacLean issued a rather dire warning after 20 up-and-down performances.

"At some point and time," he said, "when you hit 30 [games], you are what you are – and it this is what we are as an inconsistent group, it's not going to be much fun."

That 30-game mark is now coming up fast: Saturday in Ottawa, when they play host to their archrivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Before then, however, come two road games, Tuesday against the Florida Panthers and Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Senators should welcome the break away from Canadian Tire Centre. Not only is their record better on the road (6-5-2), their power play is a force elsewhere.

With a success rate of 28.9, their road power play stands second in the entire league. At home? They are 26th overall, with a dreadful 10.4-per-cent success rate.

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"Sometimes," Spezza said, "when you go on the road, it can be a good thing."

MacArthur thinks the young team he has come to this season (after three years with the Maple Leafs) has built-in problems at home that will not be present on the road.

"I feel like we tighten up," he said. "We make mistakes at home and you can feel it in the crowd. That's just how it is at home.

"They're going to cheer for you when things go well and when they don't you can hear the 'Ahhhh' and the sighs in the crowd."

It can be profoundly different on the road, MacArthur says, particularly where glaring mistakes are involved – and glaring mistakes have become the signature of this year's team.

"On the road, I feel like we're almost in survival mode. And survival mode can win you a lot of games if you do it right."

Spezza says he's gotten tired of taking pluses out of games that ended with his team in the negative column. "Moral victories in this league," he said, "they don't go anywhere."

The time has come "to work our way out of the funk we're in" and the best way to do this is to, finally, win more than one game in a row.

Two in Florida would be a welcome change. "Pretty short-sighted," Spezza admitted – but it would be a start on any return to respectability.

"I don't believe in magic or wizardry," MacLean said. "I believe in hard work. There's no magic, no potion. We're still searching. We can't just stick our heads in the sand and say this is the way we are.

"We know we haven't played well. We haven't found our best team yet. I still believe we're going to like where we are at the end."

Follow me on Twitter: @RoyMacG

Get all the latest Globe and Mail hockey coverage on Twitter: @globehockey

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About the Author

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ont., in 1948. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean's magazine (three separate times), the Toronto Star and The Canadian Magazine. More


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