Sens, Leafs go to war early

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

The Senators won't have to wait long to resume hostilities with their bitter provincial rivals.

The NHL released its 2006-07 schedule yesterday, and the Senators will get it started with back-to-back games against their arch-rival Toronto Maple Leafs.

They'll open the season Wednesday, Oct. 4 at the Air Canada Centre. Then 24 hours later, the Sens and Leafs meet in Ottawa's home opener at Scotiabank Place.

"It's always fun to open against the Leafs," said Senators president Roy Mlakar.

Two nights later, the Buffalo Sabres visit the capital for the first time since eliminating Ottawa from the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs with a second-round series win.

Unlike past seasons, the Senators will do the bulk of their travelling in the first half of the season, with 23 of their first 41 games on the road.

"The travel schedule is outstanding. There's not much to complain about with it," said Mlakar. "We don't go any further west than Chicago and we have 27 games from Thursday to Saturday, which I think is outstanding."

An eight-game pre-season schedule begins Sept. 19 against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Halifax Metro Centre.

Other schedule notes:

- Defenceman Zdeno Chara, who left the club to sign a five-year, $37.5- million (all figures US) agreement with the Boston Bruins, will return to Scotiabank Place for the first time on Dec. 19. The Senators and Chara first meet up Oct. 28 in Boston.

NO HAVLAT VISIT

- The Senators will face winger Martin Havlat and the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, March 4 at 3 p.m. at the United Center. They won't meet in Ottawa this season. The Senators will play teams from the Northwest Division (Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Minnesota and Vancouver) at home in 2006-07, and travel to Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Nashville and St. Louis.

- Goaltender Martin Gerber, signed by the Senators as a free agent on July 1, will get his first look at his former Carolina teammates when the defending Stanley Cup champions come to town on Nov. 4.

- Hockey Day in Canada is set for Jan. 13, with the Senators facing the Habs at home at 2 p.m. to kick off the festivities. It will be one of four afternoon games at Scotiabank Place, all being held in January.

"CBC wants to do more afternoon games. I moved one from a Monday night and changed it to a Saturday for them," said Mlakar. "To me, for the exposure and the value, we thought it would enhance our product to have more afternoon games on the weekend."

The Senators will play mostly Thursday (11) and Saturday (13) home games, as they do every year. There are also seven games on Tuesdays, while home dates on Monday (three), Wednesday (four), Friday (two) and Sunday (one) are more limited. The busiest month will be January, with 10 of 13 games at home.


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