Konopka eyes Toronto

DETROIT — Zenon Konopka was understandably disappointed at being left out of the battle against Detroit Friday, but he’s ecstatic about making his Ottawa Senators debut in the Battle of Ontario Saturday.

“I hated Toronto before I got to Ottawa, so it just helps that everyone in Ottawa hates Toronto, as well,” said Konopka, who was scratched from the lineup against Detroit as Senators coach Paul MacLean opted to dress a more skilled lineup.

Konopka led the NHL in penalty minutes while playing for the New York Islanders last season and he says he still has some not so fond memories of games against the Maple Leafs. As a member of the Ottawa 67’s during the most heated moments of the Senators-Maple Leafs feuds, he’s also well versed in the history of the series.

“We had some rivalries with them last year and there are a lot of guys on that team that aren’t getting a Christmas card from me,” he said. “You can’t help but be a fan of the Senators when you’re playing with the 67’s. I followed them and the rivalry quite closely, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Choosing to look ahead to Toronto was also Konopka’s way of deflecting away the pain of not being in the lineup against Detroit.

Konopka acknowledges pushing too hard to play through back problems in training camp, a decision which prompted the team’s medical staff to caution against playing games on consecutive nights. Konopka’s strengths — he ranked second in the NHL with 25 majors last season — would also be less effective against a Red Wings squad that only drops the gloves in rare circumstances. MacLean chose to dress rookie Stephane Da Costa, whose attributes are his puck handling and play making abilities.

“When we initially signed (Konopka), we knew he wasn’t going to play all 82 games,” said MacLean, suggesting that he has numerous leadership qualities outside of game action, including teaching younger centres how to improve at faceoffs. “(Friday), we just felt the best way to go was with him out.”

Konopka played all 82 games with the Islanders last season, but he says he understands the rationale.

“My back was an issue during camp. It’s something you have to respect. You don’t agree with every decision as a player, but it’s not my job to make decisions.”
MacLean’s other major decision Friday was leaving rookie defenceman David Rundblad on the sidelines. Rundblad was outplayed by both Brian Lee and fellow rookie Jared Cowen in training camp. While Rundblad’s time will come to make his NHL debut — perhaps as early as Saturday against Toronto — MacLean was leery of throwing him at the Red Wings immediately.

“We need him to work on his defensive game to make sure he’s ready,” said MacLean.

Centre Peter Regin continues to practice with the club, but once again Friday, he wore a ‘no contact’ sweater and won’t be cleared to play until early next week, at the earliest.

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