A game that counts at Corel Centre

Ottawa Senator Captain Daniel Alfredsson sits at Capones West Restaurant in Ottawa. (SUN/Tony...

Ottawa Senator Captain Daniel Alfredsson sits at Capones West Restaurant in Ottawa. (SUN/Tony Caldwell)

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 1:10 PM ET

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson sat in the dressing room yesterday, looked around at his teammates and couldn't help smiling.

It was good to be home.

"It seems like an eternity since we (last) played here," said Alfredsson with a smile.

Since April 18, 2004, to be exact. That's when Mike Fisher scored the overtime winner in Game 6 of the first-round playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs -- the last time a home game really mattered.

While Senators fans left the rink that night expecting several more nights of playoff action, nobody ever thought it would be almost 18 months before they'd get to see the Senators at home again.

Finally, though, the wait is over, as the Senators play their 2005-06 home opener in front of a sellout crowd tonight against the Buffalo Sabres (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

Not only will Senators goaltender Dominik Hasek get a look at his former team, he'll also get his first official start at home. There is excitement in the air everywhere.

"This is the date we've had circled on our calendar," said Alfredsson. "This is a great building, we've got great fans and I think it is just going to be a great atmosphere. We love playing at home. It has been a long time. We know that we've got a good team here and we're looking forward to being in front of our fans. Hopefully, we can get a good result, but we know it won't be easy."

On the heels of a 3-2 shootout victory in Toronto in their season opener Wednesday, coach Bryan Murray had the Senators on the ice for a 90-minute workout yesterday.

Murray wasn't completely pleased with the club's sometimes -lacklustre performance against the Leafs and has been preaching consistency ever since. He's also been tinkering with his line combinations.

Though rookie Brandon Bochenski was back with Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza yesterday, a few changes were made. Bryan Smolinski lined up between Daniel Alfredsson and Peter Schaefer, while Martin Havlat was back with Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette.

"What I'm doing right now is trying to find duos that have worked together," said Murray. "Fisher and Havlat had some chemistry in the pre-season and Smolinski spent a lot of time with Alfredsson.

"What we're trying to do right now is find three lines that can contribute by scoring goals and then have another line that we can try to find some ice time. We're still looking at how everybody fits in."

The Senators know they have to be better than their first game. They came out like wildfire against the Leafs, but slowly faded and didn't pick it up again until the last five minutes of the game to force overtime.

"We have to do a better job than we did in that first game," said defenceman Chris Phillips.

"We got the win, but there are a lot of areas that we can improve."

bruce.garrioch@ott.sunpub.com


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