Senators looking for an identity

Alex Kovalev (top left), Jonathan Cheechoo (top right), Milan Michalek (bottom left) and Pascal...

Alex Kovalev (top left), Jonathan Cheechoo (top right), Milan Michalek (bottom left) and Pascal Leclaire (bottom right) will be the focus of the Senators' changing makeup this season. (File photos)

CHRIS STEVENSON, Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:23 AM ET

With their pre-season games finished, the Senators have wandered off for a couple of days of team building, getting-to-know-you time and self-discovery.

The truth is it might be more like two months before the Senators and their fans get to know exactly what kind of team they’ve got this season.

With their pre-season over, there is just under a week for the Senators to prepare for their regular-season opener Saturday in the Big Apple against the Rangers.

Most of that time will be spent trying to figure out exactly what the Senators will be this season and how all the pieces fit together.

It is certainly a better team than the one that started last season under coach Craig Hartsburg (it has to be, right?), but will it be as good, record-wise, as the one that finished last season?

The Senators were 19-11-4 under Cory Clouston. Over an 82-game schedule, that projects to about 101 points.

Nobody should be thinking this team will be that good.

For what it’s worth, their pre-season record was not good.

The 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins Friday night — despite outplaying the B’s — dropped the Senators’ record to 2-4.

They outscored the opposition 13-11 over those games, but almost half (six) came in a win over the Montreal Canadiens.

They lost 39 goals with the departure of Dany Heatley and there are legitimate questions about whether Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo, the players the Senators got in return in the deal with the San Jose Sharks, can supply a like amount of offence.

Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott look to be a good improvement in the net over Martin Gerber and Alex Auld, but Leclaire will have to show he’s capable of staying healthy (two of his last three seasons have been ended by surgeries, missing a total of 70 games).

The Senators are encouraged by their overall team play under Clouston and say they believe that will give them a fighting chance most nights, even if the shots aren’t going in the net. Until Clouston’s arrival, they were one of the worst even-strength teams in the league.

“People were asking, ‘do they have any heart left? Have they quit?’ The truth is, we never skated more and accomplished less. We were really trying,” said captain Daniel Alfredsson of the team’s struggles under Hartsburg last season. “Now we just look more organized. There are still areas we need to work on, but with the new guys coming in, we should be a solid checking team. We’ll be harder-working and hopefully that will turn into offence.

“Cory came in and what turned us around was making the defencemen more aggressive. They could pinch and know they would be covered. The trust was able to build.”

Forward Mike Fisher, who led the Senators with four goals and seven points in the pre-season, sees reasons for encouragement.

“We’re disappointed we didn’t win as many pre-season games as we would have liked. I thought for the most part we played pretty good and created a lot of chances and did some good things. We just couldn’t seem to find the net,” he said. “We’re feeling pretty good about our game. We’ve gotten better throughout training camp and now we’ve got some time here before the regular season.”

Clouston said he thought the team was better than its pre-season record.

“You have to look at the big picture. We liked our effort. We had a goal called back in our barn that could have led to another win,” he said, referring to a Jason Spezza non-goal in a 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers

“With a little puck luck, our goals for could have been way higher and our goals against is way down, which is a very positive thing.”

After their return from their team-bonding session today, the Senators, who still have 26 bodies in camp, will likely have to cut three players (forward Jesse Winchester is not expected to be available to start the season because of a knee injury).

Defenceman Brian Lee, who is on a two-way contract, is a candidate to be sent to Binghamton.

That could leave the blue line looking like Chris Phillips/Anton Volchenkov, Filip Kuba/Erik Karlsson and Chris Campoli/Matt Carkner with Alex Picard as the extra man.

The forward competition is more intense. Shean Donovan, Christoph Schubert and Zack Smith are on the bubble. Smith, who’s on a two-way contract, is as good as gone.


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