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One for the road for Sens

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
STOCKHOLM — It's been a fun ride while it lasted.

With one game left to play tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Globe Arena (2;30 p.m. ET, CBC, Team 1200) to wrap up the season-opening NHL Premiere, the Senators' first overseas experience is almost complete. They'll board the plane immediately afterward for the long flight home to Ottawa, and a run of five straight games at Scotiabank Place that awaits them next.

"I’m looking forward to being home," said centre Jason Spezza with an eye toward a five-day break before facing the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings next Saturday. "It seems like we’ve been gone for a long time, even though we haven’t been gone that long. We’re looking forward to playing the game tonight, then getting home and getting settled and getting a regular schedule going."

Not that the Senators will have that right away. After Saturday's official home-opener against the Red Wings, they don't play again until Oct.17 — six days later — when the Phoenix Coyotes visit the capital. Then it's three more home games in succession: Oct. 18 (Boston), Oct. 22 (Florida) and Oct. 24 (Anaheim).

Alex Auld will make his first regular-season start in Senators uniform tonight — No. 1 netminder Martin Gerber went the distance in Saturday's season-opener — and head coach Craig Hartsburg said it's that dearth of action over the next two weeks that had him planning to use Auld tonight all along. Auld hasn't played since a Sept. 26 pre-season game in Montreal as it is.

"It’s nice to play and play fairly regularly and consistently," Auld said after the Senators' pre-game skate today at the Globe. "Even now, it’s been a while since my last start. It’s good to get in there — it would have been a long wait if I didn’t (play tonight)."

Said Hartsburg: "We were certainly thinking about that all along. We didn't want to make a decision until last night. We think it's the best for both of them and our team here tonight.

"Alex has had a good camp and (playing) back-to-back early in this season like this, I think it's important that they both play."

Auld is enthused about making his official Senators debut.

"Any time you get a chance to start with a new team, it’s always exciting," he said. "Obviously, you want to show well. I'm just approaching it like any other game, too, at the same time. I’ve been waiting and ready to go."

After carrying a 3-2 lead into the third period, the Senators dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the Penguins on Saturday night in the first half of the NHL Premiere. Now they want to salvage a split against the reigning Eastern Conferece kings before lining up next against the Cup champs. It's a daunting early schedule, to say the least.

"We knew that starting against (the Penguins) this year would be a great challenge for us, but it was something we were looking forward to," said Auld. "For the most part, we did a good job last night and there’s some room for improvement, which is a good sign."

While they were here for hockey, the Senators figure to take home plenty of memories from this Swedish adventure, which included time spent in captain Daniel Alfredsson's hometown of Goteborg.

"It’s been a little different but exciting," said first-year Senators forward Jarkko Ruutu. "The whole trip has been fun. Just a little unusual compared to the normal regular-season start but I think overall, the experience has been good. (There hasn't been) too much time to rest but at the same time, we’re spending some time together and having good experiences."

Around the boards

Other than the goaltending switch, Hartsburg plans to put the same lineup on the ice tonight. That means injured Mike Fisher (groin), along with centre/forward Cody Bass and defenceman Luke Richardson, will be the scratches again ... If you noticed the large contingent of Sens fans clad in team jerseys last night, they're part of an Operation Sweden tour that is here for both games in Stockholm and will stay to see the city's many sights for two more days afterward ... Fewer than 750 tickets remain for Saturday's game against the Red Wings and the Oct. 17 contest vs. Phoenix. There are 2,500 still available for Boston's visit on Oct. 18.

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