New head coach Paul MacLean figures to have his work cut out for him in rebuilding the Senators. So, it's fitting that he makes his Ottawa debut this evening against his former club, a Detroit Red Wings franchise that knows a little something about winning.
MacLean was hired by the Senators to replace the fired Cory Clouston after Ottawa missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. He comes to Canada's capital after serving as an assistant under Mike Babcock in Detroit for six seasons. The Red Wings finished atop the Central Division five times in that span and reached the Stanley Cup Finals twice, winning the title in 2008.
The 53-year-old is now tasked with overseeing the Sens' rebuilding process that began last year when the club traded away the likes of Mike Fisher, Alex Kovalev, Chris Kelly and Jarkko Ruutu. His new club does have a decent core of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, but all three are looking to bounce back from injury.
Spezza has missed 42 games over the past two seasons and skated in 62 games a year ago, while Alfredsson appeared in 54 games due to a nagging back injury. He did have surgery in the offseason in the hopes of staying on the ice a little more in 2011-12, but knows Ottawa will be playing more of a different style than in the past.
"We know we have to play solid defensively to win games," said Alfredsson. "We might not score four of five goals like we used to in the past, but for us it's just trying to find a way to win."
Ottawa could be a better tight-scoring team if goaltender Craig Anderson carries over his last-season success. Anderson went 11-5-1 with a 2.05 goals- against average in 18 games for the Senators after being acquired from the Avalanche and signed a four-year deal following the trade.
Ottawa's roster changes did open up some spots for younger players, including the enigmatic Nikita Filatov. The sixth overall pick of the 2008 draft was acquired from Columbus in the offseason and has totaled just six goals and 13 points in 44 career games.
Also making the opening day roster was 18-year-old Mika Zibanejad, the sixth overall pick of the 2011 draft.
"He's a mature young man with a physical presence," said Sens general manager Bryan Murray. "He certainly appears to be willing to compete, goes to the net aggressively, so based on all that I guess he's a little ahead of some of the guys in that picking spot."
Ottawa will open the season without defenseman Matt Carkner after he had surgery on his right knee and is sidelined indefinitely, while center Peter Regin is doubtful thanks to a shoulder ailment suffered last week.
A possible rebuilding phase isn't too far off in Detroit, but now is not that time for the Red Wings. Though defenseman Brian Rafalski and goaltender Chris Osgood retired this past summer, 41-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom returns for his 20th season after winning the seventh Norris Trophy of his Hall of Fame career.
Key offensive contributors Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are also getting up in years, but still produce when healthy. Datsyuk had 59 points in 56 games a year ago, while Zetterberg logged 80 points in 80 games.
Still, Detroit remains in good hands under Babcock and has made the playoffs in 20 straight seasons, winning the Central Division in 10 of the past 12 campaigns.
"We think that we have a good team," Zetterberg said on Detroit's official website. "We know that we'll be there again in the end, and that's our goal. We really think that we can do it."
Babcock will look for a good start from Johan Franzen tonight after he notched just two goals over his last 27 games last year. Franzen, though, logged a five-goal game against the Senators on Feb. 2.
Jimmy Howard also tries to get out of the gate strong after watching his ERA balloon from 2.26 to 2.79 last season, though he still won 37 games.
Mike Commodore, one of Detroit's offseason defenseman signings along with Ian White, will miss the beginning of the season due to a bruised MCL, while Tomas Holmstrom (knee), Patrick Eaves (foot) and Brad Stuart (groin) are all questionable. Danny Cleary, though, could play despite an upper-body injury.
The Red Wings, who are 5-2 in their last seven home openers, have won three straight and nine of their last 12 meetings versus the Senators, taking four of the past five matchups at home.
Ottawa is 6-1-4 in 11 season-opening games played on the road.