|Senators centre Jason Spezza will step into the pre-season for the first time tonight when the Montreal Canadiens visit Scotiabank Place. Captain Daniel Alfredsson is also in the lineup, seeing his first game action since Feb. 7 — a span of 227 days (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
It's finally time for the Ottawa Senators to let their big dogs run.
For the first time in this pre-season, captain Daniel Alfredsson and centre Jason Spezza will be in the lineup together as the Senators face off against the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers TV, Team 1200). While they won't start the game as linemates, it'll give each a chance to shed some of the off-season rust.
"This time of the year, you don't feel quite as sharp as you do during the season," Spezza said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "You just want to use the game, hopefully get a feel for the puck and shake off some of the rust you get during the summer, and just get back into a game situation."
In Alfredsson's case, tonight is much more significant than that. It's his first game action since Feb. 7, when his 2010-11 season was scuttled by back woes that eventually required off-season surgery. Needless to say, the captain can't wait for the puck to drop.
"It's been a long time in coming," said Alfredsson, 38, who's entering his 16th season with the Senators as the National Hockey League's fifth oldest active player. "I'm excited. Watching the other two (pre-season) games we played and now getting in there myself ... it'll be fun. It'll be a pretty good atmosphere tonight — playing Montreal usually is — and I'm looking forward to it."
Spezza, who's dealt with back issues himself in the past, can surely appreciate the sense of anticipation his longtime teammate is feeling headed into tonight.
"(Alfredsson) has worked hard trying to feel better," said Spezza, who expects to see action in three or four pre-season games himself. "He went through a long year last year and off-season surgery, and I think he's probably more excited than anybody just to get out there and get a feel for the game."
Senators head coach Paul MacLean doesn't plan to ease his captain into the mix.
"Right now, we're just going to play (Alfredsson) and see how the game plays out," he said. "If we have a chance to win the game, we're going to try to win the game. His minutes should reflect his position on the team, so I would expect he would play 15-plus minutes."
For starters tonight, MacLean plans to have Spezza centring a line between Nikita Filatov and Bobby Butler, while Alfredsson and veteran winger Milan Michalek will flank rookie pivot Stephane Da Costa.
"Those are combinations that interest me, to see how they work," said MacLean. "If it doesn't, we'll change them."
The teams play a return matchup Saturday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal (7 p.m., RDS, Team 1200).
Around the boards
A reminder that tonight's game is being televised by Rogers TV, but you won't find it in its usual position on the dial. With the community station committed to the Ottawa 67's home opener on its regular home on Channel 22, the Senators-Habs game is being switched over to Channel 456. It's a spot reserved for NHL Centre Ice games, but is being made available free of charge to all Rogers digital customers. It'll also be replayed on tape delay on Rogers 22 following the 67's matchup ... Derek Grant, one of the Senators' top forwards during their rookie tournament triumph last week in Oshawa, Ont., will get his first chance to play with the big club tonight. "He's been very good every day in training camp," MacLean said of the Senators' fourth-round pick (119th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft ... Craig Anderson is slated to play the full game for Ottawa in goal tonight ... Defenceman Matt Carkner, who underwent season-ending arthroscopic knee surgery last March, is expected to see his first pre-season action Saturday in Montreal ... The Senators and Winnipeg Jets will square off in the annual Kraft Hockeyville game Monday at Mile One Centre in St. John's, N.L. (4 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).