Still beasts of the East

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

Can the Senators do it again?

They're confident they can get back to the Stanley Cup final as the NHL season opens tonight at the Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the club faces a difficult task.

Here's a look at the Senators position-by-position with the help of an Eastern Conference executive:

FORWARDS: Not much has changed. LW Peter Schaefer was dispatched to the Boston Bruins for rugged RW Shean Donovan in the only major move of the off-season. Yes, the Senators are still looking for a top-six forward, but Patrick Eaves has looked comfortable on the right side of Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley in the off-season. It's a spot on the top line Eves will be surrendering to captain Daniel Alfredsson but he's played well enough to give the coaching staff food for thought when looking for someone to complement Antoine Vermette and Mike Fisher. And let's not forget centre Chris Kelly, a strong competitor and useful penalty killer.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they decided to get more depth at forward," said the executive. "They won't have a problem scoring goals, but if they get hit by injuries, then they're going to miss (C Mike) Comrie (who signed with the Isles) because he gave them some depth.

"Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson are going to lead the charge. Vermette and Eaves need to have big years."

DEFENCE: Coach John Paddock has declared Andrej Meszaros and Wade Redden are going to have to play better if this club is going to have success this season. They struggled last year and the best pairing was Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips, who both had career years.

"Meszaros looked like he wasn't focussed and it was tough to watch Redden in the Cup final against Anaheim because every time he touched the puck he got hammered," said the executive.

"Those two have to bounce back. Meszaros is going to be a strong defenceman in the league and everybody knows that Redden has to be better. He made so many errors last year that were costly."

As for Volchenkov and Phillips, they just have to repeat their stellar performances of last season.

However, the key could be Joe Corvo and Christoph Schubert. Corvo came on in the second half of the season while Schubert, who shifted between the back and forward lines, will spend most of this season on defence.

"Corvo was awful for the first half of last season. He came on in the playoff run. That has to continue," said the executive.

GOALTENDING: Ray Emery is pencilled in to be the No. 1 and it's his job to lose, but his recovery from wrist surgery hampered his training camp. That means Martin Gerber will start tonight against the Leafs.

"Gerber is a good goalie. He can get the job done. Emery is going to have to work to get his job back," said the executive. "The Senators play seven games in the first two weeks of the season, if they have success then Emery could have a tough time getting his job back."

Unless things drastically change, however, Emery should return to his starting position and Gerber will likely be playing for another team by the end of the season.

COACHING: Paddock has a different style than GM Bryan Murray. He isn't going to be on the officials nearly as much as Murray, but the players are going to be hear about it if he's not happy.

"Paddock can be silent but deadly at times," said the executive. "Those players are going to know where they stand and that's all they want."

PREDICTION: No. 1 in the East.


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