Sundin in survival mode

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:48 AM ET

If you see Mats Sundin flash a smile as he skates off the ice for the first intermission tonight, there will be a legitimate reason for his frivolity.

He'll just be happy to survive the first period of a Maple Leafs season opener, something he wasn't able to achieve last year.

Exactly 364 days ago, Sundin was playing just his third shift of the 2005-06 campaign when the puck plucked him in the left eye, fracturing the orbital bone in the process.

Sundin immediately slumped to the ice, blood spewing from his face. He would not return to the lineup for a month.

Now here he is, 12 months later, kicking off a season the same way he did last year, facing the rival Ottawa Senators at the Air Canada Centre.

He hopes the similarities end there.

"I hope I survive the first game," Sundin said yesterday. "Knock on wood. It's never fun to start out with an injury at the start of the year.

"This is a new year, a new home opener. It's exciting."

Even if he comes out of tonight's game relatively healthy, Sundin knows his team will have to be at its best in order to avoid having its collective pride bruised. This is, after all, the same Senators team that spanked the Leafs by humiliating scores of 8-0, 8-2 and 7-0 last season.

But Sundin likes what he sees from incoming coach Paul Maurice, whose up-tempo style of play suits the captain's skills.

"Our preparation has been great," Sundin said. "It's been very intense and high paced.

"We've made a lot of adjustments to keep up with the game. You look at the best teams in the league, they are hard-skating teams. If we want to be successful we have to keep up with them."


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