OTTAWA -- Craig Hartsburg lasted less than one season with the unraveling Ottawa Senators, who suddenly have a revolving door behind the bench.
Unable to turn around a team that reached the Stanley Cup finals in 2007, Hartsburg was fired as coach Monday just 48 games into a season in which the Senators have the NHL's third worst record.
The Senators made their first trip to the finals two years ago and now are likely to miss the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons.
The decision to replace Hartsburg with Cory Clouston was made by general manager Bryan Murray after Ottawa lost 7-4 at Washington on Sunday. Hartsburg signed a three-year contract in June.
"We've made another coaching change and now we have to watch the players over the next period of time and decide who stays and who doesn't stay to help us go forward," Murray said. "There will be judgements made before the trading deadline."
The 39-year-old Clouston, promoted from the AHL's Binghamton Senators, is the team's fourth coach since Ottawa lost in five games to Anaheim in the 2007 finals. He was given a three-year contract. Murray returned behind the bench for the final 18 regular-season games (7-9-2) after he fired first-year coach John Paddock in February.
"We kept hoping there would be some change in our performance, which didn't seem to be taking place," said Murray, who coached the club to the finals before taking over as GM. "We just weren't making any progress. We're struggling to keep up."
Ottawa (17-24-7) is 13th in the Eastern Conference, 14 points below the playoff cutoff.
The latest coaching change was made less than a week after team owner Eugene Melnyk held a news conference to say he still believed in his club. Talk of a potential switch surfaced in December while the world junior championships were in Ottawa. Murray's job was also rumored then to be in jeopardy.
Melnyk responded by saying he had "made no decisions with respect to personnel changes," which was hardly a vote of confidence.
The momentum of the finals appearance carried into last season when the Senators won 15 of their first 17 games. Since then, they have had a losing record and barely managed to hang on for a playoff spot last spring. The Senators were swept out of the first round in four games by Pittsburgh.
The slide continued this season, even with a fresh voice in Hartsburg behind the bench. Scoring is down for the club's three offensive stars -- Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. There has been little offense as well from Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette, Chris Neil and Chris Kelly.
The once-feared Ottawa attack has become among the lowest-scoring in the league, and many point to the failure of defensemen to move the puck. In recent years, Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Andrej Meszaros and Joe Corvo have been among the defensemen who have left Ottawa either by trade or through free agency.
"We're not going to put the blame on Craig and say it's his fault," Alfredsson said. "We don't feel that way. We know we haven't performed to the level we're capable of and hopefully Cory can come in and give us some more energy because that's been lacking lately."
The team's management also has been in flux. Murray, hired as coach in 2004, succeeded John Muckler as general manager in June 2007 when Paddock was appointed coach. Paddock was gone by midseason when Murray went back behind the bench, and Hartsburg took over to start this season.