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Things Don't Get Easier For Leafs

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

TORONTO (CP) -- The first round of the Battle of Ontario could best be described as a couple of prizefighters feeling each other out.

So when Ottawa meets the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night at the Corel Centre, the Senators will try to bring a little more offensive punch to the fight.

"It wasn't your typical game against them last time,'' defenceman Wade Redden said, recalling Ottawa's season-opening 3-2 shootout victory over the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre last Wednesday.

"It seemed like both teams were laid-back a bit and maybe just expecting after that long layoff (from the lockout) that things would just happen. But we've got to go out there and force things.

"That's the way we want to play. I'm sure it's going to be a little more skating, a little more excitement.''

For a skilled and swift-skating team that was expected to be among the biggest beneficiaries of the NHL's move to open up the game more, the Senators looked anything but that on opening night.

They plodded their way through a dull contest saved only by a late flurry in which Ottawa rallied from a pair of one-goal deficits with two goals by Daniel Alfredsson before eventually winning 3-2 in shootout.

"They're a good hockey club, Toronto, but we definitely didn't bring our best hockey game that night,'' Senators centre Jason Spezza said Sunday following the team's practice.

The Senators took a lot of penalties (11) and committed a lot of turnovers as they adjusted to the new rules.

Offensively, they created managed only 23 shots, which prompted Ottawa coach Bryan Murray to shake up his lines less than a game into the new season.

"It just wasn't a typical opening night in Toronto that you'd figure,'' Senators centre Bryan Smolinski said. "It was kind of anti-climatic for all of us.''

Murray chalked his team's performance against Toronto up to opening-night jitters, or at least that's what he hoped it was.

Whatever the cause, it was gone by Saturday night when the Senators kicked into gear against Buffalo and buried the previously unbeaten Sabres with a 5-0 victory that displayed the best of their talents.

"Obviously, it was a different team,'' Smolinski said. "(But) it was a good night for us.''

Ottawa scored three times on the power play and once while short-handed and Dominik Hasek, who will start in goal against the Leafs, showed some of the vintage form that earned him six Vezina and two Hart Trophies.

Even with a 2-0 lead heading into the third period against Buffalo, the Senators weren't content to sit back as teams, including Ottawa, would have done in past seasons.

"You can't shut it down anymore,'' Murray said. "We got ahead by a couple and my whole conversation with the players in the room (between periods) was to keep pressing. I think that's the new NHL.''

Saturday's game was the kind that Ottawa hopes to reproduce against its biggest rival Monday.

Surprisingly, the Corel Centre was still about 1,300 tickets short of a sellout Sunday. Any regular-season meeting between the two is normally treated like a playoff game in the Ottawa.

The Leafs, who are without Mats Sundin for the game and likely Jeff O'Neill, blew a third-period lead Saturday night in a loss to the Montreal Canadiens, so they're still looking for their first victory of the season.

Spezza doesn't expect them to be willing to open things up to the Senators' liking.

"They had three guys back pretty much all night the first (game),'' he said.

"We've just to make sure we use our speed and stay wide and use the whole ice and really force them to spread out. With no red line now, you can kind of stretch a man every once in a while and create some more room.''

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