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Game on in a hurry for Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Now the business of putting together his first Ottawa Senators team gets serious for head coach Craig Hartsburg and his staff.

With just three days of practices under their belts, the Senators hit the ice against the New York Rangers on Saturday night at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., Rogers TV, Team 1200). It’s the first of five pre-season games they’ll play in the next eight days before heading off to Sweden for the NHL Premiere series that opens the 2008-09 season.

The trip to Gothenburg and Stockholm has made for a bit of a rushed training camp, one in which a number of tough roster decisions remain to be made. But Hartsburg said the Senators have to simply work with the hand they’ve been dealt.

“We’ve had good practices,” he said after the completion of Friday’s triple session. “With the group, you’d like to see some scrimmage time but we don’t have enough time to do that. Most training camps, you do get one big scrimmage and get to see more game situations. But we just have to deal with it.

“That’s what’s been thrown at us this year, just three days (before the first game) and we’ve got to get to work.”

The Senators assigned 15 players to the American Hockey League camp in Binghamton, N.Y., which opens Monday at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, and sent blueliner Ben Wright back to the Western Hockey League’s Lethbridge Hurricanes. The cutdown leaves 38 players still in camp – four goaltenders, 10 defencemen and 24 forwards.

Saturday’s night game against the Rangers – which won’t include a visit by former Senators blueliner Wade Redden, by the way – will give fans a chance to look at the Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Jesse Winchester combination that’s being tested out in camp. Captain Daniel Alfredsson, meanwhile, will skate alongside Antoine Vermette and Nick Foligno, with the latter getting a go at the centre position.

“There’s some young guys playing. It’s a good mix,” Hartsburg said of his roster for the first pre-season game.

Martin Gerber, the Sens’ No. 1 goaltender, is expected to get two periods of work against the Rangers, with Brian Elliott taking over for the third. For the veterans on the team, every second of ice time will matter with the regular-season opener a mere two weeks away.

“You’d like to get in as many games as possible, just to get your feet underneath you,” said centre Jason Spezza. “This camp is pretty quick, it comes pretty fast, the (pre-season) games come and the next thing you know, we’ll be going to Sweden.”

Goaltender Alex Auld, a free-agent signee who’s pencilled in as Gerber’s backup, can already sense a team that’s being properly prepared for the fast-approaching start of the season.

“There’s a good tempo to (training camp) and I think that’s important,” he said. “Training camp is so short nowadays. We’re playing a game already tomorrow. You’re just three days on the ice and then you’re going at it, so you have to get through all those systems and everything.

“The guys seem really committed to work, committed to the details and wanting to do all the little things.… I think overall, everything looks really positive.”

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