by Todd Anderson
The 2006-07 season begins tonight for the Ottawa Senators when the team visits rival Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. The wait has been a long one for the Senators, a team that played nine pre-season games in a stretch of 12 days in September.
"It's good to finally get close to our first game," says captain Daniel Alfredsson. "It's finally here."
There'll be a different look to the Senators lineup that defeated the Maple Leafs in seven of eight contests during the 2005-06 regular season. It starts in goal, where Ray Emery returns but will be joined by newcomer Martin Gerber - who won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes last season. Gerber says he's becoming comfortable with his new surroundings.
"(The pre-season) was an adjustment period for me. It was an important time for me because I was a new player. This team has tons of skill and lots of speed. I'm just trying to go out and keep things as simple as possible. This will be exciting for sure."
Joining Gerber as newcomers in the organization are defencemen Joe Corvo and Tom Preissing, as well as forward Dean McAmmond. Also joining the opening day roster are Russian rookie Alexei Kaigorodov and forward Denis Hamel, an AHL veteran who has been called up to Ottawa on nine occasions during his career.
General manager John Muckler is confident he has a solid lineup.
"We feel we have put together a team that will be competitive," Muckler says. "Our defence is more mobile and up front, we have two lines that can score; a third line that can contribute offensively, as well as defensively; and a fourth line for checking. We have some good depth with our players (in Binghamton) also. We have the skill level here. We just have to get a little bit more out of everybody."
From Day 1 of training camp, head coach Bryan Murray has demanded a high level of effort from his players.
"We want a good work ethic throughout our lineup. That will make us competitive," Murrary says. "This is going to be a hard-working team. The players have worked hard in practices, and most of our (pre-season) games have been played at a good level, too."
"We're starting with a clean slate here. We have to prove we are a good hockey team. We're trying to get everybody to buy into playing a team game. That's our most important message at the start of the year."
As was the case in 2005-06, the Senators will face all Northeast Division opponents, including Toronto, eight times this season. After tonight's regular-season debut, the Leafs and Senators return to the ice tomorrow at Scotiabank Place for the Senators' home-opener. The game will mark the first of three times this season when the teams play back-to-back games.
Click here to view the Senators' opening-day roster.
Click here for a look at the Senators' complete regular-season schedule.
Click here for information on tickets for upcoming games.