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Senators eager to turn page, begin a new season

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Veteran defenceman Chris Phillips is entering his 14th NHL season in Ottawa, but remains as enthused as ever about opening night, which comes Friday in Detroit against the Red Wings (Getty Images).

Fourteen years later, it's a night and a time that still conjures up a special brand of excitement.

Even for the elder statesman on the Ottawa Senators blue line.

"Yeah, it sure does," veteran defenceman Chris Phillips said today when asked if the start of another National Hockey League season creates the same level of buzz for him. "Training camp is (a time when) it's exciting to get back and see the guys and get accustomed to playing with new players.

"But it's all about the regular season now and it definitely feels good to get started. It helps us forget about last year and, even moreso, be excited about this year coming up."

Many names and faces surely have changed since opening night a year ago, when the Senators entered the 2010-11 campaign with plenty of playoff hopes. But they were pretty much extinguished by mid-season and the Senators signalled the start of a new era by unloading half a dozen veterans and introduced a younger element to the team that has carried over to a new season.

When the season opens Friday night at Joe Louis Arena against the Detroit Red Wings (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200), the Senators could have as many as 10 different faces into the lineup than the one they iced to start the previous season. On the blue line alone, Phillips could find himself playing alongside a pair of highly touted newcomers in Jared Cowen and David Rundblad. Up front, Mika Zibanejad is poised to become that rare player who makes his NHL debut as an 18-year-old, after a standout performance throughout the pre-season.

Of course, there is perhaps the most important newcomer of them all behind the bench, where longtime Red Wings assistant Paul MacLean begins his NHL head coaching career against his former team in an arena he previously called home for six seasons. MacLean worked his team hard throughout training camp, putting an emphasis on skating and conditioning. Now it's time to see all of that labour start to pay dividends.

"It's been a hard camp, but nothing unreasonable," said Phillips, who is slated to play his 1,000th career NHL game — all of them with the Senators — during a homestand in early February. "It's right in line with what the coaching staff expects us to do on a nightly basis, and (the pre-season) has been a warmup for that. Guys are feeling good right now and fresh, and they're ready to execute what's expected of us.

"It seems like everyone's on the same page. There's not a lot of guys behind the scenes trying to figure out exactly what's going on, or any confusion. It is a clear message about what they expect — a lot of skating and hard work. We'll start from there and if we do that on a nightly basis, things are going to fall into place for us."

Added centre Jason Spezza: "It's probably the hardest camp that I've had in years. He's got our skating legs under us and we're looking forward to getting in some games and using our legs in a productive manner and not just in practice ... The practices are the hard part and the games are the fun part. We're looking forward to getting into games and reaping some of the benefits of what we've been doing in practice."

Around the boards

Opening night likely won't include centre Peter Regin (shoulder), whose availability for this weekend is now in doubt. "We were optimistic about Peter and he skated well again today, but we're not doctors," said MacLean. "He feels he could go if we needed him to go, but ... we're going to respect the doctors' decision and make sure we're patient. Right now, Peter will not play tomorrow and he's doubtful for the weekend." ... MacLean on making his head coaching debut in Detroit: "For sure, there will be (nerves). I'm sure there will be. I just hope I'm not scared to death, but I think I'll be all right" ... The Senators conclude a season-opening two-game road trip Saturday in Toronto against the Maple Leafs (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) ... Fewer than 750 tickets remain for the Senators' home-opener Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).

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