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Something old, somewhere new for Gonchar

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Sergei Gonchar played five seasons for the Pittsburgh Penguins before signing with the Senators as a free agent over the summer. He makes his return to the Steel City tonight, when the two teams face off for the first time since April (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).

Check out the NHL game notes for tonight's Ottawa-Pittsburgh matchup.

Sergei Gonchar knew there was no avoiding this night.

But the veteran Ottawa Senators blueliner admits the emotion of his Pittsburgh homecoming won't be quite the same at the Consol Energy Center, the Penguins' new home arena and a place where Gonchar has as much playing experience zero as his current teammates. That all changes when the Sens and Pens square off this evening (7 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200).

"After I signed with Ottawa, I knew it was going to happen," said Gonchar, who signed with the Senators as a free agent in July after playing the five previous seasons for the Penguins. "It’s just one of those things. Life is going the way it’s going and then you have to move forward and do your best. Now I’m playing with Ottawa and it’s my team.

"(Tonight) would have been tougher for me if I was playing at the old Mellon (Arena), where I played so many games and won a Cup (in 2009). But this is a new building and it’s beautiful. It’s probably going to be easier for me to adjust in a new building."

Indeed, the last time these teams met, they produced an epic triple-overtime affair the longest game in Senators franchise history at the building affectionately known around the National Hockey League as The Igloo. Matt Carkner's goal kept Ottawa's season alive in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series, but the Penguins closed it out two nights later at Scotiabank Place.

Gonchar isn't quite sure what kind of reaction he'll receive from the Penguins faithful tonight, now that he'll be sporting enemy colours.

"As a hockey player, when you’re out there, it’s probably for the first second or two that you’re thinking about it," he said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "But then the game is going and you’re not really into (the fan reaction) as much. You’re focusing on the puck and you’re focusing on the game.

"I’m ready for any reaction, to be honest. I’ve been through that before and it’s up to them to decide what they’re going to do. I just have to go out there and play my best and make sure it’s not a distraction to me."

The Senators, meanwhile, want to end a short two-game road trip on a high note after falling to the Canadiens 4-3 on Saturday night in Montreal. Head coach Cory Clouston said it all starts with more consistency.

“We saw it for 2-1/2 games, where we had some success with (our game),” he said. “But we got away from it the last half (of the game) the other night and it cost us two points. It’s just consistently getting into position, moving the puck, supporting the puck and just the little things. Having numbers at our blue line, having speed through the neutral zone and having support entering their zone.”

Around the boards

The Penguins have been riding the hot hand of backup goaltender Brent Johnson (3-0-0, 1.32 GAA, .953 save percentage), who will be between the pipes tonight against Brian Elliott and the Senators. "Their goaltender, right now, has made a huge difference for them," said Clouston. "When you have a goalie back there making those type of saves and with those type of numbers, it just allows you to play your game" ... Tonight marks the 1,500th professional hockey game for Senators head equipment manager Scott Allegrino, who has been with the team since the 2005-06 season. Allegrino, a Binghamton, N.Y., native, previously worked with Ottawa's American Hockey League affiliate in his hometown ... The Senators are in Buffalo on Friday night to face the Sabres (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200) before returning home Saturday to take on the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

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