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It's not uncommon for a young team like the Toronto Maple Leafs to be looking for direction in the early part of a season. It is striking for a veteran-laden club such as the Ottawa Senators to be doing so, however.
The archrivals from Ontario, both seeking some consistency, meet for the first time this season Saturday night at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Under first-year coach Ron Wilson, the Maple Leafs (2-2-3) have finally committed to a youth movement, turning over the team to 28-year-olds Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov as well as giving ice time to Luke Schenn, the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft.
Even with the possible season debut of defenseman Jeff Finger, who has been sidelined with a foot injury after the Leafs signed him to a four-year, $14 million deal in the offseason, Wilson said he is leaning towards keeping Schenn, an 18-year-old blueliner, on the roster as opposed to sending him down to juniors.
Toronto ended a five-game losing streak Thursday with a 4-2 victory at Boston. Anton Stralman snapped a 2-all tie with 9:14 left as the Maple Leafs scored four unanswered goals after falling behind 2-0 in a 31-second span late in the first period.
"It's a young team and they're not going to give up and they're not going to think, 'Oh, here we go again from last year or the year before,"' said Wilson, whose team lost three games via shootout during the skid. "This group seems to really enjoy playing with each other, and tonight was a lot of fun."
Antropov has scored four goals his last three games after being held to two assists in his first four. Ponikarovsky has assisted on three of those goals, and the duo are 1-2 on the team in scoring with six and five points, respectively.
While the Leafs are trying to build off a 60-minute effort, the Senators (2-4-1) are hoping they can carry the momentum of 20 good minutes of hockey into this game. Ottawa played listlessly for two periods Friday, but rallied with three third-period goals before falling short in a 4-3 defeat to Anaheim - its third straight loss - and ended a five-game homestand at 1-4-0.
It was the second consecutive game the Senators fell behind 2-0 in the first period before frantically trying to come back.
"We've just got to be more aggressive," said right wing Daniel Alfredsson, whose power-play goal opened Ottawa's scoring with 13:13 to play. "We've got to go out and win games instead of waiting for a good break for something to happen.
"Once we're behind, we play pretty darned good, so we've just got to get off to better starts."
Dany Heatley assisted on all three goals, while defenseman Filip Kuba extended his points streak to seven games with a pair of assists, giving him 10 overall. Martin Gerber, who went 4-2-0 with a 2.52 goals-against average against Toronto last season, is expected to be back in net for Ottawa after Alex Auld played Friday.
The provincial rivals split eight games last season, with Ottawa's 8-2 victory at Toronto on April 3 ending a four-game losing streak to the Maple Leafs. Heatley had six goals and three assists versus Toronto in 2007-08, and has 20 goals and 17 assists in 23 games against the Maple Leafs since joining the Senators in 2005.
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