Senators open preseason with a win over Jets

It was only a preseason game, and the first one at that, but it sure beat the alternative.

Senators open preseason with a win over Jets
Ottawa Senators' Zack Smith (15) keeps control of the puck with pressure from Winnipeg Jets' Jerome Samson (21) and Axel Blomqvist (65) during first period preseason NHL action in Winnipeg on Sunday, September 15, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG — It was only a preseason game, and the first one at that, but it sure beat the alternative.

After skating up and down the suburban rinks of Kanata for the first three days of training camp, the first group of Ottawa Senators finally saw some game action Sunday night in Winnipeg.

For the flashy new combo of Jason Spezza between Milan Michalek and Bobby Ryan, it was an opportunity to put any strides made in practice to the test.

The early returns were good.

Ryan, acquired by the Senators this summer just hours after finding out they were losing Daniel Alfredsson to the Detroit Red Wings, scored less than a minute into the second period of Ottawa’s tilt against the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre.

He stepped over the blue line after taking a pass from Erik Karlsson and ripped a quick-release, top corner goal from the faceoff dot to the left of Jets starter Michael Hutchinson. For the Senators, it was a tantalizing glimpse of the quick-release shot that has already made the 26-year-old a four-time 30-goal scorer in the NHL.

Milan Michalek, who picked up the second assist on Ryan’s goal, was credited with a goal of his own after a Karlsson point shot hit him on its way to the back of the net. Spezza also picked up his first helper on that one.

There were some early kinks to be worked out too, mostly on the power play, but that was to be expected.

“It’s really in its infancy,” Spezza said prior to donning the captain’s ‘C’ for the first time in a game. “It seems like we’re on the same page, we’ve had good discussions in practice, we made some plays in the intrasquad, but this is going to be the time now that we have the chance to really evolve as a line.

In addition to seeing the big three in action, along with early glimpses of Karlsson and goalie of the future Robin Lehner, coach Paul MacLean viewed the game as an opportunity to really start measuring depth players’ progress.

“I think, to be fair to them, when they play a game is when they really get the assessment,” he said. “Practicing against their own teammates is different than playing against an opponent.”

The only other Senator to hit the scoresheet in the 3-1 win was towering winger Buddy Robinson, who got his 6-5 frame in front of the net to tip a Troy Rutkowski point shot behind Hutchinson.

Hutchinson went the distance for Winnipeg, making 29 saves in 60 minutes of work.

Lehner stopped 17 of 18 through two, ceding a breakaway goal on a nice deke by Jets winger Matt Halischuk. Andrew Hammond took over goalkeeping duties for the Senators from there, stopping all 10 shots he faced.

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