Looking out of No. 1

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

TORONTO -- The Senators arrived in hostile Leafs Nation last night with a bull's-eye on their back.

The defending Eastern Conference champions, who open the season tonight against the rival Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre, have been warned by coach John Paddock to be ready because everybody will be out to get them.

"We have a target on our back because we're the standard for the East going into the start of the season," Paddock said following a workout yesterday at Scotiabank Place before the flight here.

"Everybody will approach us like that. You have to be even more ready."

TOP DOGS

Paddock noted that the Hurricanes started last season as the team everybody was after, but they were quickly displaced by the Sabres.

"I hope that we are the standard for the East the whole season," Paddock said.

The Senators are looking forward to facing the Leafs in the home-and-home series, which will continue tomorrow at Scotiabank Place.

It has become one of the best rivalries in the NHL.

"It's fun to be a part of. You've got that playoff atmosphere," said Senators defenceman Chris Phillips. "We've got to play them eight times. I guess it's good for hockey in October to start off with two teams that generate a lot of excitement.

NOT MUCH OF A BATTLE

"There are a lot of Toronto and Montreal fans in (Ottawa). It makes it easier away from the rink when you're able to come out on top. It's fair to say that we'd love to go in and spoil their home opener. I'm sure they'd say the same thing."

The Battle of Ontario hasn't been close the last two seasons, with the Senators posting 12-2-2 record against the Leafs while outscoring them 69-39.

The Seantors have a tough time explaining why they've dominated the Leafs.

"There have been a few lopsided games, but aside from that they've been pretty close. The intensity is always up," said centre Jason Spezza. "They're playoff atmosphere games. They're always exciting, especially for me being from (the Toronto area). There's no real reason why we've had success there. Whatever it is, we want to keep it going."

The Senators will also be looking to get off to a better start then they did last season.

POOR START

Ottawa went 8-11-1 in the first two months of 2006-07, essentially costing the Senators any real shot at earning home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

"We've talked about it and we put ourselves in a tough situation (last season)," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "Maybe it was good for us, but I don't think you want to do that on purpose.

"We ran into some injuries and we had to play a lot of great hockey to even make the playoffs. We'd like to get off to a good start, but if we don't, then we'll work hard and try to improve."


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