Senators ready to drop the puck

With three blasts of his whistle Friday, Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean brought his team’s mini training camp to a close.

Senators ready to drop the puck
Ottawa Senators netminder Craig Anderson fields a shot in practice Friday at the MTS Center in WInnipeg. January 18, 2013 - Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press

WINNIPEG — With three blasts of his whistle Friday, Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean brought his team’s mini training camp to a close.

League business is back on the rails. The opening day lineup is set. The lessons have been drilled into his players’ heads — as much as they can be with only a week to prepare.

Now all that’s left to do is drop the puck.

“We’re really excited, looking forward to the opportunity that this short season presents, not only for us, but for the whole league,” MacLean said after running his charges through their last on-ice workout.

“I think everyone’s frustration level (over the NHL lockout) reached a lot of points in the last four months, but I think now that we’re back to getting on the ice and playing the game, I think everyone’s excited and we’re looking forward to it.”

MacLean still had a few pieces of business to take care of prior to the Senators’ season opener Saturday afternoon at the MTS Centre against the Jets, however.

First up: Naming a starting goalie. There had been some speculation that MacLean might turn to either goalie of the future Robin Lehner or backup Ben Bishop, both of whom have made plenty of quality starts with AHL Binghamton this season. That would have given top netminder Craig Anderson more time to prepare after a long layoff.

In the end, MacLean decided to go with the man who got them into the playoffs a year ago.

His reasoning was succinct: “He’s our No. 1 goalie.”

Lehner will serve as backup before a likely trip back to Binghamton, thanks in large part to the two-way contract that makes it easy for the team to send him down.

Anderson, meanwhile, insisted he was ready to roll.

“I think just getting the timing and the rhythm down with the quality shooters that we have, that’s probably the biggest adjustment,” said Anderson, who went 33-22-6 last season with a 2.83 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. “Seeing five or six days of shooters like what we have, that’s probably the best practice you’re going to get, so you just can’t ease yourself into the game.”

Besides, he felt goaltenders might have an early edge.

“You never know, I mean goalies, the percentage is on their side. For the most part, every goalie in the league had a 91, 92 (per cent) save percentage last year,” he said. “I like those odds. Having a shooter who’s maybe missing his marks or a little off his game, the goalie might have the advantage.”

Of course, 13-time 20-goal scorer Daniel Alfredsson had a different opinion.

“I think the shooter (has the advantage), because I think there will be more mistakes than there normally would be out there,” he said.

Given the electric atmosphere he was expecting, however, the mistakes probably won’t be limited to goaltending.

“I have a feeling it’s going to start out really quick and fairly simple — get it in, try to force turnovers early on and it’s going to settle itself down in the second and third period — at least I hope so!”

And the team is hoping that, in the midst of all that excitement, the inexperienced players they’re plugging into the lineup can make a quick adjustment.

MacLean also announced Friday that Kaspars Daugavins would be a healthy scratch at forward, while Ottawa native Mark Borowiecki was the odd man out on defence.

That means the top defence tandem for Binghamton this season — Patrick Wiercioch and André Benoit — becomes the third pairing in Ottawa.

It also means 22-year-old Jakob Silfverberg will start the season on the first line alongside Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek.

Silfverberg is no stranger to pressure-packed games — he made his NHL debut last spring in the playoffs after leading his Swedish club, Brynas, to a championship overseas — but he was nonetheless excited for Game 1 here.

“I’ve heard (Winnipeg) is a crazy hockey town, it’s going to be very loud in here (Saturday) and I’m just very excited about that — I love to play when it’s like that,” he said.

SENATORS SELL OUT

The Senators announced that Monday’s home opener against the Florida Panthers is sold out, but there should be plenty of room at Scotiabank Place on Saturday afternoon. The rink will open at 2:30 p.m. for fans who want to watch the 3 p.m. game on the big screen. The first 500 people through the door will also get free tickets to a future game.

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