New faces for Senators

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

The Senators hope a revamped roster will bring better results this season after missing the playoffs in 2008-09.

Defencemen Brian Lee and Christoph Schubert were sent down to Binghamton of the AHL yesterday, meaning the Senators will open the regular season Saturday night with seven new faces in the lineup.

Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek are the newest additions up front, joining the Senators in the trade that sent disgrunted winger Dany Heatley to the Sharks on the first day of training camp.

Goaltender Pascal Leclaire, forwards Alexei Kovalev and Peter Regin, forward/defenceman Matt Carkner and rookie blueliner Erik Karlsson are the other newcomers.

Expectations are high for Leclaire, Kovalev, Michalek, Karlsson and Cheechoo, while it remains to be seen how much Regin and Carkner will contribute to the team.

Whether it’s a rookie like Karlsson or a face of the franchise like Daniel Alfredsson, every Senator has the same goal — returning to the post-season.

“Playoffs are the goal of every team at the start of the year,” said Ottawa centre Jason Spezza. “Once you get into the playoffs, everybody has got a chance to win. If you get hot, and get good goaltending, then you can get rolling. That’s obviously our focus.”

The Senators believe they’re going into this season with more depth than they’ve had in the past — especially up front. Spezza has been skating with Michalek and Alfredsson on the top line, while Kovalev will start on a line with Regin and Mike Fisher.

Nick Foligno, Ryan Shannon and Cheechoo will make up the third unit, while Jarkko Ruutu, Chris Kelly and Chris Neil will skate on the fourth line, with Shean Donovan as the extra forward.

“We’ve got a really good group of guys here,” said Kovalev. “Instead of having one good line, we’ve got four good lines with everybody going and everybody playing hard.”

After signing a two-year, $10-million US contract in the off-season, Kovalev is well aware the pressure will be on him to play well.

“I don’t have to prove myself. I know my game and how I can contribute to this team,” said Kovalev.

“I’m just going to come out and do my best. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Ottawa or another team. Right now, I play for Ottawa, so I’m going to do my best to take this team to the playoffs.”

The club has tried to deal blueliner Alex Picard without success, meaning Lee — who is on a two-way contract — will join Schubert in Binghamton to start the season. Things aren’t likely to stay that way all season, however.

Lee, 22, didn’t have a great training camp, but it’s fair to say he’ll likely see playing time with the Senators this season, since he can be called up without having to clear waivers.

Several factors led to Lee’s demotion — the Senators needed to make room for Karlsson, who is expected to blossom into an elite defenceman, the club wanted to keep Carkner for his toughness and it also needed to cut some salary from the books.

“(How Karlsson is used is) going to depend on who we’re playing,” said Senators coach Cory Clouston.

“The size and strength of the opposition and maybe the size and strength of the line he’s going to match up against. He’s showing right now he can play top-four minutes 5-on-5 and help out the power play. Penalty killing, we’re not going to use him right now.”

Centre Jesse Winchester, who suffered a right knee injury in an exhibition game in Montreal, is expected to resume skating today or tomorrow, but is still two weeks away from returning to the lineup.


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