Martin plans to focus on defence as second Sens tenure opens with blown lead
Jacques Martin’s return to the Ottawa Senators’ bench on Tuesday did not go as planned. One day after taking over head coaching duties from the fired D.J. Smith, Martin was unable to earn a victory in his first game behind the bench as the club fell 4-3 to the Arizona Coyotes.
The Sens looked rejuvenated under their new coach early in the contest, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first period. However, familiar defensive issues hurt the Sens once again as the Coyotes scored three in the third period to complete the comeback victory.
Martin said he saw good things from his club but identified plenty of areas, especially in the defensive zone, that he will need to address at his first practice on Wednesday.
“I like some of the things we did last night. I think we had an excellent first period, a lot of puck control in the offensive zone,” Martin said on TSN Radio Wednesday morning. “A couple of areas we need to address. There’s areas we need to improve, no doubt. We need to improve away from the puck and be more effective at defending.
“Coming in as a new head coach, there are certain systems I want to put in place that will help us be more successful and help us defend better. We have an important game review today, then go on the ice and work on some of the elements I identified from last night’s game.”
The Senators are allowing 3.44 goals per game, 26th in the league, and have also struggled on special teams, sitting at 29th with a 73 per cent penalty kill rate.
Martin has 17 years of head coaching experience in the NHL, most of which came with the Senators from 1996-2004. The Rockland, Ont., native also had head coaching stints with the St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers, and Montreal Canadiens. He won two Stanley Cups as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
"I think it’s a great opportunity. It’s a young club that’s been developing over the past couple of years,” Martin said of the opportunity to return as a head coach for the first time in over a decade. “We feel like we’re not where we want to be, but I like the leadership group of our young players. I like the talent.”
Martin has a familiar face beside him on the Senators bench, as team legend Daniel Alfredsson was also brought on to be an assistant. This is the 18-year veteran’s first coaching job, but Martin says Alfredsson’s NHL pedigree and 14 years of experience as Senators’ captain will be key for the development of the club’s young core.
“[Alfredsson] was an elite player and he had a great relationship with the players. When you look at his personal development as a player, drafted in the seventh round, had to improve on a daily basis, showed great commitment and passion and was a great leader as captain for many years,” said Martin.
“He had passion and love for the game and was a very talented player. He was very involved and, as my captain, I used to have a lot of conversations with him about our play and where our team was at. He was a really important cog in the progression in the early 90s. It’s an opportunity for him to continue and take a bigger part in teaching the young players we have on our club.”
Martin and Alfredsson have their work cut out for them and have been tasked with turning around a Senators team that has lost five in a row and sits last in the Eastern Conference with an 11-16-0 record. The team came into the season with playoff aspirations after missing the postseason by just six points last year. However, the young core has not yet taken the expected leap.
As the new coaching staff tries to get the team back into the playoff race, Martin says it will be important to manage expectations moving forward and focus on what they can accomplish in the short term.
“I think our expectations are important. For the players, I think it’s okay to have high expectations. I think for us, we’ve got to see what the big picture is,” said Martin. “Most importantly, I think we have to focus on the short term. We have to have an objective that we have an opportunity to meet, and for me it’s a process as far as getting better every day.”