|4:00 PM PT5:00 PM MT6:00 PM CT7:00 PM ET23:00 GMT7:00 4:00 PM MST6:00 PM EST3:00 UAE (+1)19:00 ET20:00 BRT, October 2, 2019
Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, Ontario Attendance: 19,612
Maple Leafs set to open against familiar Senators
The rebuilding Ottawa Senators are looking for a fresh start when they open their season Wednesday night against the host Toronto Maple Leafs, who are trying to build toward a stronger playoff showing.
The Senators finished last in the NHL last season as they started a rebuilding phase in which such players as Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene, Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel departed.
During the offseason, the Senators traded defensemen Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur to the Maple Leafs, and forward Zack Smith was sent to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have had regular-season success but lost to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs last season for the second year in a row.
The Senators have a Maple Leafs influence. Their new coach is D.J. Smith, an assistant to Toronto coach Mike Babcock for the past four seasons. The Senators have added defenseman Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev and forwards Connor Brown and Tyler Ennis, all former Maple Leafs.
Ottawa signed defenseman Thomas Chabot to an eight-year contract, and he is considered a key part of the reconstruction.
Of the 22 healthy players on the Senators' roster, 12 were not on the roster for the first game last season.
"We've put in a lot of work over the last little bit here, and it's good to see that we're finally going to get a real test," Smith said.
The Senators will face a stern challenge against the Maple Leafs.
"They've probably got the most high-end natural ability in the NHL with the exception of (the Tampa Bay Lightning)," Senators defenseman and alternate captain Mark Borowiecki said. "They've got a lot of guns up front. If you try to get into an up and down game with them, they're going to torture you for sure, so we've got to play our game and make them adjust to that.
"If we fall into their game, with their high-end offense and skill up and down the ice, it's not going to be a good result for us."
The Maple Leafs know the time has come for them to improve their playoff performance.
"We need to take a step forward," Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews said.
Babcock is pleased with the additions made during the offseason.
"What I have learned is we made some real good additions this summer, and the fact that (Ilya) Mikheyev, I think, has a chance. He looks like a real hockey player," Babcock said.
"Trades we made, on the back end, we've taken a step. I think the growth of a guy like (rookie defenseman Rasmus) Sandin is real, Mooresy (Trevor Moore) looks like a hockey player now, which is positive. I think Goat (Frederik Gauthier) is way better.
"That's positive. All the main pieces that you have been thinking are good for a long time are way better, so that's positive too, and more confident."
Morgan Rielly and Ceci are progressing as a defense pairing, and newly acquired defenseman Tyson Barrie has been working well with Jake Muzzin.
The third forward line with Alex Kerfoot at center between Mikheyev and Moore has shown potential, and a left winger will be determined for the fourth line that has Jason Spezza and Gauthier.
The key Maple Leafs forwards will continue to be John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Matthews, along with a good young group that includes William Nylander, Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen.
Zach Hyman (knee) and Travis Dermott (shoulder) are expected to return from surgery about the end of October.
--Field Level Media
Updated October 1, 2019