Positive vibes for Sens

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

STOCKHOLM -- The Senators left this city of subtle beauty and water, bridges and spires with three out of four points against the Penguins.

Unlike the offering at sunset, when the light reflects off the gold atop some of those spires, the Senators' two-day contribution to Stockholm wasn't pretty.

Which is a good thing.

It is so early, of course, but was there more than a hint of what this Senators team could be this season in Sunday's 3-1 win over the Penguins?

New Senators coach Craig Hartsburg and GM Bryan Murray have talked about "playing the right way." After last year's mess, Murray has a vision of a team which is tougher to play against and not the group that surrendered chances and goals so easily last year when the Senators slipped to 11th in the Eastern Conference and 25th in the league in goals allowed.

There were signs Sunday in the finale to the NHL's premiere series this Senators team will be more like the one Murray and Hartsburg want; more like the one that just 16 months ago -- with many of the same players still around -- lost only three games in the Eastern Conference playoffs for a berth in the Stanley Cup final. It all unravelled so quickly last year; it's unreasonable to expect it to turn around overnight.

"It's a good start for us. We wanted to use this trip to build and we're still building. Over the next couple of weeks we've got a lot of time to work on things and continue to build our team. We think we're making strides and taking steps, but it's still a long ways to go and a lot of work," said Hartsburg (the Senators' only game in the next 11 days is Saturday's home opener against the Stanley Cup-champion Red Wings).

But, in the finale to what surely be one of the most memorable weeks in the life of Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, the Senators, backed by solid goaltending by Alex Auld, played, for the most part, "the right way."

Now, of course, these were not last year's Penguins who went to the Stanley Cup final because of an array of offensive talents, most of whom are now either departed (Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone) or injured (defencemen Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney).

MALKIN FLATTENED

They still have Sidney Crosby and Evegeni Malkin and the Senators, mostly thanks to Murray's off-season acquisitions, made things hard on both of them. Senators winger Jarkko Ruutu, brought in to be the agitator Ottawa has never had, abused Crosby on a couple of occasions. Malkin got up holding his mouth after being flattened in front of the Ottawa net, one of two Penguins to be put to the ice by new defencemen Jason Smith and Filip Kuba in a scramble around Auld.

Kuba was the workhorse of the blue line in the two games, clocking about 56 minutes, playing strongly in his own end and picking up four assists.

Auld gave the Senators the goaltending they didn't get from Martin Gerber in Saturday's 4-3 loss in overtime and should get consideration to be the starter Saturday. But after Gerber's shaky performance last Saturday, you can't blame anyone for thinking goaltending still has the potential to be this club's undoing despite any upgrade in work ethic. Foot speed on the blue line might also be an issue against certain clubs, but being outworked or intimidated won't be.

LISTEN TO COACH

The most noticeable things about the Senators' game Sunday was the way they gathered around a couple of Hartsburg's lighthouse priorities: Winning individual battles and protecting the puck once it is won. It comes down to dirty work and the Senators worked dirty Sunday.

Not that there were some points of light, as well.

Alfredsson's story, starting with his return to his hometown of Gothenburg and the reception he got there and ending with him joyfully discarding his equipment to give to the fans in the Globe Arena at the end of Sunday's game, will go down as one of the memorable weeks of his life and in the modern Senators' short history.

The performance of winger Dany Heatley, beyond the three power-play goals in the two games, hints at a player poised to grow his game. He played like a guy trying to set an example Sunday. He asked for more responsibility -- like killing penalties -- and was sliding to block shots.

It's way too early to know how good this team will be. A good sign is the details, which were swept aside by the circus that threw up its big top around the club last year, appear once again to be the focus in the centre ring.

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HAVE YOUR SAY ON SENS GOALIES

While Martin Gerber looked shaky in Saturday's season-opening 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh, Alex Auld closed the door on the Penguins in Sunday's 3-1 victory.

With the Senators returning home to play the defending Stanley Cup-champion Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, should the Senators give the start to Gerber, their No. 1 goalie from last year, or give Auld another shot?

What's your opinion? Tell us what you think and why at ottsun.feedback@sunmedia.ca. We'll post a selection of the answers online and in the Ottawa Sun later this week.


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