TORONTO -- Are the Senators back on track?
We'll get a pretty good idea tonight in Round 3 of the Battle of Ontario.
There were plenty of smiles as the Senators made the short flight here yesterday for their next showdown against the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
Coming off an easy 8-1 victory over New Jersey on Saturday, the Senators have plenty to prove in this home-and-home series against the Leafs, which continues Thursday at Scotiabank Place.
A victory over the Leafs would go a long way in getting the fans -- who were booing Ottawa players after a 2-1 loss to Colorado last Thursday -- back on the bandwagon.
"We needed to get a win. Everybody was feeling the heat a bit," said Senators centre Jason Spezza, a target of the boo birds last week. "The city has become accustomed to us winning and we've become accustomed to winning. We know we have to win to keep everyone happy.
"That game (against New Jersey) doesn't mean much if we go out and have a poor performance (against the Leafs). We've got to back it up now. We kind of owe Toronto a little bit now."
No kidding. The Leafs walked into Scotiabank Place for the Senators' home opener Oct. 5 and dropped a 6-0 pasting on the Senators.
Ottawa players would like to get revenge tonight, and in turn, improve to .500 and close the five-point gap with the Leafs to three in the Northeast Division standings.
"The parity in the league -- except for Buffalo -- is pretty obvious," said Senators coach Bryan Murray. "Every game is a big game. When you lose four early in the year, you've got to make them up somehow. (The Leafs) have improved greatly. They are going to be physical. They've got some balance in their scoring and they are playing a quicker style of game.
"I have to say, with all due respect, you add (Mike) Peca, (Pavel) Kubina and (Andrew Raycroft), you are going to be better. When you add people, the message to the players in the organization is: 'We're not happy and we want to be better.' That will get the players motivated. I thought they were going to be considerably better this year. I know after I saw (the Leafs in) Game 1 (in Toronto), we won (4-1), but I felt that's a different hockey club."
BACK TO GERBER: While backup G Ray Emery was in the net for the club's victory over New Jersey, G Martin Gerber, who was pulled after allowing five goals on 24 shots in Ottawa's home opener against the Leafs, will make the start tonight. "We're trying to keep both guys playing and both guys are going to get games," said Murray. "We want to make sure that both guys are active."
NO CHANGES: Murray said he won't make any lineup changes. That means LW Denis Hamel will be a scratch for the second straight game. Senators GM John Muckler said he's not sure how long the club is going to carry 22 players, but isn't planning to make any moves in the short term. "It doesn't really cost you that much more to keep the extra players around," said Muckler.
HEAR AND THERE: Murray wasn't surprised to hear Philly owner Ed Snider cleaned house, with GM Bob Clarke stepping down and coach Ken Hitchcock being fired Sunday. "It's always disappointing in our business and our fraternity after six or eight games, and guys lose their jobs. It's probably an overreaction," said Murray. "Bobby Clarke has been a great hockey man and a great player. Ken Hitchcock, winning a Stanley Cup, has a proven record." Many don't believe Hitchcock will be out of work long. There has been talk there could be openings in Columbus and Tampa Bay ... Murray said D Andrej Meszaros has struggled. "He's fighting it a little bit, no question. He's almost trying to do too much," said Murray. "He's got to settle in and get back to playing a normal level for him and the normal level for him is pretty good."