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Back to work for Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Their European adventure is but a sweet memory now.

It was back to work for the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday morning at the Bell Sensplex, with the three points gained against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Stockholm squarely in the rear-view mirror already. Instead, after some time spent getting their feet back on the ground, the talk already turned to the challenge ahead and the opportunity to build on what was gained during a week together in the heart of Scandinavia.

"I think we're making strides," head coach Craig Hartsburg said as he assessed his team's overall performance to start the regular season. "It's still very early and we're making strides in our team play. We're trying to build an identity that we want to work and we want to compete with skill.

"Last weekend was a good start for us but you know what, it's two games in and we've still got a lot of work to do. But we're happy we're making strides in the right direction."

Of course, the excitement generated by a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to open the season in Europe is tempered by this sobering thought: The Stanley Cup champions are up next for the Senators in their home-opener Saturday at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

"We play the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. There's not much letdown there," said centre Jason Spezza. "Home-opener, Stanley Cup champions coming in .... there's lots of anticipation for that one."

Even captain Daniel Alfredsson, who had a week to cherish forever in his homeland, is enthused about that game already.

"I think everybody is looking forward to that one," he said. "Playing the Stanley Cup champions at home... I think the fans are looking forward to it as well."

First though, there's the matter of getting re-acclimated to home again, after a long flight across six time zones back to Ottawa. Hartsburg wanted his players back on the practice ice today to get started along that path but will keep them off it Wednesday before beginning the serious preparation for the Red Wings.

"We've got to get back to work and practise. I think that's the first thing," he said. "Then we can start to focus on playing Saturday night."

Spezza, for one, thinks the five-day break between games will be helpful, given the hectic travel of the past week overseas.

"If you look at the teams last year (that started their seasons in Europe), they tried to come back and play a lot of games on the way home and it didn't work out really well for them," he said. "Hopefully, the rest (will help us)."

The benefits of the trip, however, could have long-term effects. Hartsburg noticed a team on the weekend that battled as one from the outset.

"Once the game started, you could see they played as a team," he said. "They played the same way, they tried to do the little things right. We weren't perfect but all in all, I thought they tried to be a good team."

Added forward Dany Heatley: "It's huge. You play in junior or college (hockey), it's easy for that group to be tight. You're living in the dorms together or you're billeted close together but at the pro level, I think guys are doing their own things. It's important for guys to be close and hang out together, and I definitely think it translates out on the ice."

Around the boards

Hartsburg wasted no time in tabbing Martin Gerber as his starting goaltender for Saturday's game. "It's a big challenge and a great game to play," Gerber said about facing the Wings. "There's going to be a lot of attention on that game, and I'm definitely looking forward to playing the Stanley Cup champions." ... Centre Mike Fisher (groin) skated on his own this morning and Hartsburg is hopeful he'll be ready for Saturday. "He's going to skate again tomorrow and hopefully practise with us Thursday," he said. "We'll see how he does but he's got to get back to practice with us first (before he can play)."

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