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Senators schedule one of a kind

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
It is an Ottawa Senators schedule like no other before it.

From the historic season-opener in Stockholm against the Pittsburgh Penguins to a two-week absence from Scotiabank Place during the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship, the Senators 2008-09 schedule is anything but routine.

The 82-game slate released today launches in Sweden with games Oct. 4 and 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and finishes off on April 11 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto with a matchup against the provincial-rival Toronto Maple Leafs.

As announced on Wednesday, the Senators play their home-opener at Scotiabank Place on Oct. 11 against the Stanley Cup-champion Detroit Red Wings. It’s the first of five straight home dates for the Senators.

Ottawa’s longest road stretch of the season coincides with the 2009 WJC. The Senators face the Dallas Stars on Dec. 20 at Scotiabank Place, then don’t return to home ice again until Jan. 10, when the New York Rangers visit the capital. In the between, the Sens face eight consecutive road games, including a Western Canada swing through Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.

Payback time for that lengthy absence from Ottawa arrives Feb. 24, when the Senators begin a run of eight straight home games. That follows a Feb. 21 Hockey Day in Canada matchup with the Canadiens in Montreal.

That long run at home allows the Senators to avoid something that’s plagued them in previous seasons: A road-dominated schedule in March. In 2008-09, Ottawa plays eight of its 15 March games at home.

“The good news is we were finally able to get some balance that we haven’t had in a long period of time,” said Senators president and CEO Roy Mlakar. “Most of our Marches (in the past), we were heavily scheduled on the road.

“We love having the home-ice advantage at the pivotal time of the year down the stretch.”

Only in January do the Senators play more road than home games (seven of 12). Other than that, it’s no worse than an even split in each month.

“It couldn’t be much more balanced,” said Mlakar.

He also pointed out the Senators will have less back-to-back games (16 instead of 17 last season) and fewer stretches of three games in four nights (down from 23 to 17) in the season ahead.

“From a hockey perspective, that’s really, really good news,” he said. “We’ll have a more rested hockey club. We’re very pleased with it. We think we came out real well this year.”

Twenty-five of the Senators’ 40 home dates at Scotiabank Place in the new season will be played at the tail end of the week: 10 Thursdays, two Fridays and 13 Saturdays. Other home games are slated on Monday (two), Tuesday (10) and Wednesday (three).

For the first time since 2003-04, the Senators’ schedule features games against every National Hockey League team. They’ll face each of their Northeast Division rivals six times and play four games against the remaining Eastern Conference teams.

Also part of the slate are home-and-home series with the three Canadian teams from the Western Conference. In addition to the Red Wings, Ottawa will play host to each Pacific Division team (Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks), while visiting the rest of the Central Division (Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues), along with the Northwest Division's Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild.

The Senators’ pre-season schedule has been released as well. It includes home dates against the Rangers (Sept. 20), Canadiens (Sept. 27) and Philadelphia Flyers (Sept. 24), and road contests in New York (Sept. 22) and Montreal (Sept. 26).

The sixth pre-season game is against the Frolunda Indians – Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson’s former team – in his hometown of Gothenburg on Oct. 2.

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