TORONTO -- Much more than provincial bragging rights will be on the line in tonight's edition of the Battle of Ontario. The surprising Ottawa Senators sit in a tie for fourth spot in the Eastern Conference with 56 points, while the Toronto Maple Leafs are seven points behind, in ninth place, just one point back of Pittsburgh and Washington.
Ottawa's fantastic 8-0-1 run came to a halt last night on home ice, as the Senators were shut out for the first time this season, 2-0 by the Winnipeg Jets. Tonight's game is the start of a tough six-game road trip that will take the Senators out west to face all three California teams, Phoenix, and then back east to finish against the defending Stanley Cup champions in Boston.
Center Jason Spezza, Ottawa's scoring leader with 47 points, is looking forward to taking on the Leafs.
"It's an exciting game, both teams are in the playoff picture," Spezza said. "Coming off a loss last night it's nice to get back playing right away. We expect them to give us their best tonight, and we need a better game than we had last night."
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson expects a fast pace.
"Both teams play an up-tempo game, a lot of skating," Alfredsson said. "We know Toronto, especially at home, they like to get on the forecheck and create turnovers. For us it's a matter of being good in our own end, breaking the puck out as quick as we can, and hopefully bypass their first two or even three forecheckers and get some chances that way."
Like the Senators, the Leafs were shut out on home ice in their last game, a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers Saturday night. Coach Ron Wilson will make a number of lineup changes after two consecutive losses.
Of particular note, Toronto's high-scoring duo of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, who have been held without a point in three straight games, will have a new centerman. Tyler Bozak, who has missed the last seven games with a shoulder injury, will replace Tim Connolly as the No. 1 pivot.
Bozak, who has developed good chemistry with Kessel and Lupul this season, is happy to return to action between the two wingers, both of whom sit in the top 10 in League scoring.
"They're usually not going to be held off the scoresheet for that long, it's exciting to be back for them on a night like tonight," Bozak said. "They're both due for a really good game, and I got lucky enough to be slated in between them. So hopefully I can get them the puck and try to get them out of this little funk they're in."
James Reimer, who has a 3-0-1 career record against Ottawa, will make his first start since Dec. 31 in Winnipeg. Reimer, who has been supplanted as the starter by Jonas Gustavsson, gets an opportunity to win back the No. 1 job.
"It's a huge four-point game," Reimer said. "We can't give them any more points and let them widen the gap. We want to close it as much as possible. Seeing the standings, it makes it more important of a game and adds excitement. There should be good energy out there."
Defenseman Jake Gardiner and winger Jay Rosehill will also be back in the lineup, but Wilson wouldn't tip his hand on who would come out, citing a game-time decision.
Mike Komisarek and Nazem Kadri are most likely to sit.
According to coach Paul MacLean, Ottawa will ice the same lineup as last night in Winnipeg. Goaltender Craig Anderson, the NHL's Third Star of last week, will make his 10th straight start.
Here are tonight's projected lineups:
Colin Greening - Jason Spezza - Milan Michalek
Erik Condra - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno - Zack Smith - Chris Neil
Kaspars Daugavins - Zenon Konopka - Bobby Butler
Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips - Matt Carkner
Joffrey Lupul – Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Matthew Lombardi – Tim Connolly - Joey Crabb
Jay Rosehill - David Steckel - Mike Brown
Keith Aulie - Dion Phaneuf
Carl Gunnarsson - Luke Schenn
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson