Re-Leaf for Konopka

Maple Leafs defenceman John-Michael Liles hits Senators forward Zenon Konopka at the Air Canada...

Maple Leafs defenceman John-Michael Liles hits Senators forward Zenon Konopka at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Sep. 19, 2011. (ALEX UROSEVIC/QMI Agency)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:35 AM ET

TORONTO - Zenon Konopka called it a fitting start.

Signed as an unrestricted free agent in the off-season, the rugged Senators centre had a smile on his face after Monday’s morning skate as he prepared to pull on his No. 28 Ottawa jersey for the first time against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“Put it this way: If I had to choose a place to go into, maybe Long Island would be No. 1, but No. 2 would be Toronto,” said Konopka before the puck was dropped. “I’ve watched the rivalry ever since I played junior (for the 67’s).

“The Senators were playing the Leafs in the playoffs back then and I saw some playoff games. I’m excited to be part of it and to bring back a real intense rivalry.”

Konopka, 30, who has spent time in Anaheim, Columbus, Tampa and Long Island, would like to think he has finally found a home. He joked with a reporter who suggested he’d like to spend the rest of his career in Ottawa.

“I’ve been in a lot of different places. I think I’ve been to 46 of the 50 states and nine different provinces,” said Konopka. “It’s been exciting and I’ve enjoyed it instead of being frustrated.

“If somebody puts a lifetime contract in front of me I’d say it (Monday),” added Konopka with a smile. “It’s great for me to be here and I want to be here for a long time.”

NO STONE UNTURNED

The Senators signed C Mark Stone, a sixth-round pick in 2010, but he will return to Brandon to play for former Ottawa coach Cory Clouston. “We thought the best (idea) was to get it done as quick as we could,” said assistant GM Tim Murray. “It takes a little bit of weight off his shoulders and he can go back to Brandon to just concentrate on his year.” Stone should get a chance to play a major role for Canada at the world juniors. “It definitely was a pleasant surprise,” said Murray. “It was great for us we were able to get him in the sixth round and we think he’s better than a sixth-round pick. He’s come a long way so far and if he continues to work hard he’ll play in the NHL.”

THIS ‘N’ THAT

Toronto observed a moment of silence and did a video tribute for former Maple Leafs Igor Korolev, Alexander Karpovtsev and Wade Belak, who all died tragically last summer before the puck was dropped ... A guy who has looked good in the scrimmages: Captain Daniel Alfredsson, who was throwing his weight around Monday. His back doesn’t look like it is hurting after off-season surgery. “He’s finally healthy,” said GM Bryan Murray. “He was telling me he feels good.” ... Mika Zibanejad’s first: A hooking penalty in the first ... The TV schedule for the pre-season: Wednesday vs. Boston (TSN) 7:30 p.m., vs. Friday vs. Montreal (Rogers 22) 7:30 p.m., Monday vs. Winnipeg at St. John’s (CBC) 4 p.m. and Sept. 27 vs. Toronto (Rogers 22).

GETTING A GOOD LOOK

The Senators are going to give top prospects C Mika Zibanejad, C Stephane Da Costa, D Jared Cowen, D David Rundblad and D Patrick Wiercioch a lot of playing time during the pre-season.

While Da Costa, 22, signed as a free agent from Merrimack, was given Monday off against the Leafs, he isn’t going to get many more as the club plans to play that group in at least five of the seven exhibition games.

“We want to find out if they can play,” said assistant GM Tim Murray. “You can’t find that out unless they play. So, they’re going to play most of the exhibition games. If they can’t play, then they aren’t going to be here.”

“He’s never been good enough to be with one team. Everybody likes him, but nobody likes him enough to keep him. I’m not sure why that is. I’m just glad we had an opportunity to get him,” Senators coach Paul MacLean on Konopka.

THINGS I THINK I THINK

C Peter Regin suited up for his first game since Feb. 19, when he suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery after getting slammed into the boards by Joey Crabb. Regin should be the odds-on favourite to be the club’s No. 2 centre, but he has to prove it. He’s in a battle with Mika Zibanejad and Stephane Da Costa. “They are both great players and good guys. They will play in the league for sure. It’s not my decision,” said Regin. “I can’t focus on those guys and what they are doing. They won’t decide where I’ll play on the team. That’s up to me. If they are good and I am good, I guess we will all be here. So I just focus on myself.” ... They tried shallower nets — the ones used at the research and development camp — at the ACC Monday to see if they would create more room behind the net. Just my take: Stop making changes and leave the game alone ... C Bobby Butler made a great save off Mikhail Grabovski in the first. That was set up by a horribled giveaway by Patrick Wiercioch. He wasn’t alone in that department as rookie David Rundblad struggled in his own end and in his debut against NHL talent.


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