New Sens get old test

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

TORONTO -- The Senators are picking up right where they left off.

Eighteen months after being eliminated from the 2004 playoffs by the Maple Leafs, the Senators begin a new Stanley Cup quest tonight at the Air Canada Centre against their most-hated rival.

With seven new faces on the 21-man roster -- including six rookies -- the Senators are determined to get started on a strong note before facing off against the Buffalo Sabres in their home opener Saturday at the Corel Centre.

"It seems like it has been a long time since that last game (on April 20, 2004)," said centre Mike Fisher prior to the Senators' one-hour flight here yesterday afternoon.

"We had a good exhibition season and now we have to step it up a lot. This is going to be a lot tougher. We've made a lot of changes. We've got a lot of new faces in the room, but we're excited to get going. It couldn't get any better than starting against Toronto."

This is the moment the Senators have been waiting for since they went to training camp in mid-September. They know the 7-1 record they easily racked up in the pre-season is meaningless now.

The Senators will have a new look in goal with former league MVP and Stanley Cup champ Dominik Hasek between the pipes, and highly touted rookie defenceman Andrej Meszaros making his NHL debut.

Up front, Dany Heatley is going to get his first real experience with the Battle of Ontario since arriving in a trade from the Atlanta Thrashers in August. Also on board for this provincial punch-up tonight are rookies Chris Kelly, Brandon Bochenski, Brian McGrattan and Ray Emery.

"We didn't really have anything like this in Atlanta. We had a bit of one with Tampa Bay, but the franchise was pretty young," said Heatley. "You think of those great Calgary-Edmonton rivalries and those were pretty strong games. This hasn't been around as long, but it could probably rival those games."

Heatley has heard about this rivalry from the fans since he was obtained in a deal that sent sniper Marian Hossa to Atlanta.

"First, they want us to beat the Leafs. Secondly, they want us to win," said Heatley with a laugh.

The thing is, the fans aren't kidding.

That's why setting the tone early is paramount for the Senators. They will face the Leafs eight times this season and the Northeast Division might be one of the toughest in the league.

"These are the games it's easy to get excited about when you think about what has happened over the last year," said Senators defenceman Wade Redden. "It's good to start off against our biggest rival and of course we want to win the game.

"Every time we play them, it's always a great game. We know they're going to be tough, but we've got some new people. We know we're not going to win every night, but we feel now if we play a certain way, then we've got a good chance of being successful."

That fateful playoff loss of 2004 is gone, but not forgotten.

"Right now, it doesn't seem like so long ago," said Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson. "We know what we want to accomplish this season. Now we have to go out and get the job done."

It all begins tonight.


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