TORONTO -- Martin Gerber, welcome to one of the most intense rivalries in the NHL.
The Senators' new goalie got a pre-season taste of what the Battle of Ontario is all about, so he has a pretty good idea what needs to happen as Ottawa opens the season tonight against the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
"I just know we have to win," said Gerber, who was signed by the Senators as a free agent in the off-season from the Hurricanes.
Even those who have viewed games between the Senators and Leafs from afar understand the importance of their showdowns ... not to mention bragging rights.
While the Senators owned the Leafs with a 7-1 record last season, the slate is wiped clean as these bitter rivals begin a home-and-home series, which continues tomorrow night at Scotiabank Place.
The Leafs have made plenty of changes, but even without Tie Domi in the lineup and coach Pat Quinn behind the bench, the dislike these teams have for each other is akin to how Oilers fans feel about Chris Pronger.
"It's going to be different without those guys, there's no question," said rugged Ottawa winger Brian McGrattan. "But these games are the ones that we look forward to the most as a team.
"You really like the chance to play against the Canadian teams, especially Toronto and Montreal. These are always good games and they're always big games."
The Senators aren't just looking at this as an opportunity to beat the Leafs. This is also about getting off to a good start in the tough Northeast Division.
"This is a huge game for us," said Senators defenceman Chris Phillips. "We play teams in our division eight times. That's 32 games in the season and if you have a good record against those teams, you have a chance to put yourself in a good spot for the playoffs. It starts with Game 1 of the season."
GETTING AN 'A': Speaking of Phillips, he was named an assistant captain yesterday. It's believed coach Bryan Murray also considered C Mike Fisher, but decided Phillips should be the man to replace the departed D Zdeno Chara, who was named captain of the Bruins yesterday. "You always hear me talking about good people and (Phillips is) a good person," said Murray. "He's a veteran guy who has been in the organization for 10 years. He cares greatly about this hockey team. He's a very competitive guy and a steady individual in the room and on the ice. I thought if there was a person who deserved it, he was certainly one of those people. There were other people and we talked about it a great deal. But, at the end of the day, Chris' position on the team and in the room was a factor. The guys like and respect this guy." Phillips said it was nice to be recognized. "It's a big honour. I'm happy to be given that responsibility and I'm looking forward to it."
AROUND THE BOARDS: Rookie C Alexei Kaigorodov will be a healthy scratch against the Leafs while LW Denis Hamel will play. Murray maintained that he won't hesitate to put the young Russian into a game in the near future. "I'm not afraid to put him in at anytime at this point," said Murray. "He's a responsible player. He's gotten hammered a little bit (in the media), but I think he's a responsible guy." ... Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson was the only member of the NHLPA's executive committee not named in a lawsuit by Detroit D Chris Chelios and a group of players filed in Chicago on Monday. While Alfredsson was a VP on the executive committee during the NHL lockout, he wasn't named in the suit which claims union executive director Ted Saskin didn't go through the proper process in taking over from Bob Goodenow. "I don't know much about it and I don't want to speculate on what's happening because I'm not involved with it," said Alfredsson, an interim VP of the union.