Senators take the good with the bad

Dave Bolland’s goal midway through the third period broke a 2-2 deadlock and sent the blue-and-white dressed fans home happy from Canadian Tire Centre Thursday, but let’s try to put the exhibition schedule into some kind of perspective.

Senators take the good with the bad
Carl Gunnarsson (L) holds Bobby Ryan off the puck in the first period as the Ottawa Senators take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in pre-season NHL action at Canadian Tire Centre, September 19, 2013, in Kanata, Ontario. (Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen)

Dave Bolland’s goal midway through the third period broke a 2-2 deadlock and sent the blue-and-white dressed fans home happy from Canadian Tire Centre Thursday, but let’s try to put the exhibition schedule into some kind of perspective.

The Maple Leafs’ 3-2 win ended the Senators’ mini winning streak to open the pre-season schedule, but there are two vastly different elements going on.

Some things are all about fine-tuning for the real deal that begins in a couple of weeks.

On Thursday, for instance, Senators fans at CTC received their initial first-hand look at the line of Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and Bobby Ryan. As far as chemistry goes, there’s clearly still plenty of work to be done, as the unit delivered a spotty, inconsistent performance, looking out of sync at times on the power play.

Then there was number No. 1 goalie Craig Anderson, seeing his first action since last May against the Pittsburgh Penguins and aiming to shake off some summer rust. Anderson looked fine enough, at least until a couple of defensive breakdowns led to a pair of Maple Leafs goals only 19 seconds apart late in the second period. Anderson finished with 15 saves on 17 shots, giving way to Binghamton-bound Nathan Lawson for the third period.

While it’s a given that the big line will receive big minutes and Anderson will get the nod when the regular season opens Oct. 4 in Buffalo, the situation is so much different for the prospects pushing to get noticed — any way they can.

In that respect, the small but speedy line of Shane Prince (5-11, 186 pounds) Jean-Gabriel Pageau (5-9, 172 pounds) and Andre Petersson (5-9, 179 pounds) showed plenty of spirit all game long.

Petersson tied the game 2-2 with a pretty backhand off the post behind Maple Leafs goaltender Drew MacIntyre with only six seconds left in the second period. MacIntyre stopped him on a 2-on-1 break early in the third period.

The unit was dangerous throughout, beginning with their opening shift, when Prince drew a cross-checking penalty after the Maple Leafs couldn’t contain the pesky forwards.

Senators coach Paul MacLean says it’s all about consistency, wanting all three to showcase an all-around game night after night.

While there’s no guarantee Pageau will stick around — he can be sent to the minors without passing through waivers — he appears to cement his status every game he plays. Always sound defensively, he was one of the first forwards over the bench to kill penalties Thursday. MacIntyre stopped him on a short-handed breakaway in the third period. For good measure, Pageau delivered a huge check on Maple Leafs centre Nazem Kadri, running him hard into the boards and taking a stick to the face in the process.

Unfortunately for the Senators, Kadri, who didn’t receive a penalty on the play, got his revenge on the power play, tying the game 1-1. Mason Raymond gave the Leafs their 2-1 lead only 19 seconds later.

Petersson, who was all but gone from the organization before imploring the Senators to give him another shot in the summer, tied the game before the period ended.

“I just want to out there and do my best,” Petersson said before Thursday’s game. “I just want to shine in front of the guys, the management and coaches. That’s what I think about it. We’re not the biggest line, but I think we might be the quickest, though.”

While Petersson is trying to make good with his second chance, Prince, the former Ottawa 67’s star, has added defensive awareness to his offensive touch. Thursday’s game was the second exhibition contest of his career — the first one came two years ago — but he was doing his best to not be overwhelmed.

“I can’t make things too complicated,” he said beforehand. “I have to keep it simple. Use my speed and skill and have fun.”

The line definitely had its moments, enough that the players should get another look — if not together than with different linemates.

What else to take out of Thursday’s win/loss?

Defenceman Fredrik Claesson, likely ticketed for Binghamton, scored the lone first period goal, with Ryan introducing himself to Senators fans with an assist.

Defenceman Patrick Wiercioch showed some deft touch with crisp open ice passes, Mika Zibanejad looked confident, regularly driving through the middle with power wingers Colin Greening and Chris Neil on either side and Erik Karlsson showed occasional flashes of how quickly he can jump into the rush. Lawson, who faced 10 shots in third period, made some outstanding stops, including a trapper save off Carter Ashton which should be seen over and over again on great save highlights.

On the downside though, the Senators were often sloppy in their own end and the power play looked nowhere near regular season form.

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