Hockey Night in Sweden

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson fields questions during a press conference yesterday in...

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson fields questions during a press conference yesterday in Stockholm on the eve of Ottawa's NHL opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. (BOB STRONG/REUTERS)

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:34 PM ET

STOCKHOLM -- Sidney Crosby doesn't believe in a Stanley Cup hangover.

If that's the case, the Penguins superstar wasn't paying close attention to the Senators last year.

After going to the Stanley Cup final in 2007, the Senators had the NHL's quintessential morning after last year and, after a slow, gruesome slide in the second half of the season, were eliminated by Crosby and the Penguins last spring in four straight games.

Now the two teams meet today in the first of back-to-back games here at the Globe Arena to kick off the 2008-09 NHL season.

Both clubs were significantly retooled during the summer, with the Senators looking to get back to elite status and the Penguins, who saw free agents flee and are without injured defencemen Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney, trying to stay there.

No team since the 1984 Oilers has lost in the final and then returned to the final the next spring.

Many finalists have crashed and burned, finishing out of the playoffs.

That's why they call it a hangover. Will it sink this year's Penguins?

"I don't think so," Crosby said yesterday after the Penguins practised at the Globe. "You start fresh and you forget everything from the year before. You take the experience and learn from it, but other than that, I don't think you get caught up in what happened or the Stanley Cup hangover, so to speak. You can't afford to think about anything like that. You move on. I think we're all prepared and refocused and know that we have to prove ourselves again."

It starts today against a Senators team facing the same challenge, to prove themselves again.

We start to find out today if the moves by Senators GM Bryan Murray to get rid of the likes of goaltender Ray Emery and tough guy Brian McGrattan, trading defenceman Andrej Meszaros, seeing Wade Redden leave via free agency and bringing in new coach Craig Hartsburg will pay off.

'LONG SUMMER'

"It's good that it's finally starting. When you have a long summer and this kind of adventure overseas, you're ready to start your year," said Murray.

Why will this year be different?

"Work ethic, character, attitude. Our depth up front is better than it was because we have a couple of young players. I think the type of defensive corps we have is different, no doubt, in a couple of spots. A lot will depend on how they play. That's no secret. The whole key is from a toughness point of view or defensive point of view, we should be more difficult to play against."

The Senators plunged into the bottom third of the league in goals against last year and Hartsburg's mandate is to make opponents earn what they get.

Two-thirds of the Senators defence is new with Jason Smith (free agent), Filip Kuba and Alexandre Picard (coming over in the Meszaros deal) and Brian Lee (who played but a handful of games last year) joining holdovers Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov.

Kids like Nick Foligno, Jesse Winchester and Cody Bass and veteran agitator Jarkko Ruutu, one of those free agents to leave the Penguins, should give the Senators more energy up front.

"We're all excited about the opportunity to play a great team right off the start like Pittsburgh," said Hartsburg. "We're ready to compete."

Throw in the fact the Senators and the Penguins have a bit of a history after meeting in the playoffs two springs running and today's game has got the potential to be interesting.

KNOW PENGUINS WELL

"We pretty much know what to expect from Pittsburgh. We've seen them a lot the last few years," said Alfredsson, who sat out practice yesterday to nurse some bumps and bruises. "You've got to make sure you have three men back and stop their two big guys in Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin."

Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien echoed Alfredsson's sentiment.

"We know Ottawa really well," said Therrien. "It's almost a little rivalry with that team. We had something to prove when we started the playoffs last year. That was the team that two years ago did a good job against us. I'm sure from their standpoint, they've got something to think about. You can't ask for a better start than to play a team that's got a little rivalry."

The Penguins will be in tough without Gonchar and Whitney, their top two defencemen. Both are out indefinitely with shoulder and foot injuries.

"It's going to be a challenge for that group of defencemen. I'm not going to deny that," said Therrien. "They are our two best movement defencemen. We talked to the defencemen and they've got to use that as a challenge. There's not one team losing those core defencemen that wouldn't be hurt.

"(But) we lost Crosby (last year, to an ankle sprain) and not many people were betting on us to make the playoffs, especially at the same time we ended up losing a No. 1 goalie in (Marc-Andre) Fleury. That's a group that's been through a lot of things."

So have the Senators.

The clubs will meet here again tomorrow, as well.


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