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Last season, the Ottawa Senators went through a coaching change, missed the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade and then had one of their top players demand a trade.
Opening the new season in a building where they've enjoyed success for many years could help distance any lingering bad memories.
The Senators begin the post-Dany Heatley era on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers and Marian Gaborik, who will make his regular-season home debut after an impressive first game with his new team.
Ottawa's string of 11 straight playoff appearances ended in the spring with an 11th-place finish in the Eastern Conference. Heatley then announced in June that he wanted out of the Canadian capital because of what he perceived as a diminishing role with the club after coach Cory Clouston took over in March for the fired Craig Hartsburg.
A two-time 50-goal scorer with the Senators, Heatley nixed a proposed deal with Edmonton after refusing to waive his no-trade clause. On Sept. 19, Ottawa dealt the disgruntled winger to San Jose for forwards Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo.
Michalek had 23 goals last season for the Sharks. The key to the deal, however, is if Cheechoo can somehow regain the form that saw him lead the league with 56 goals in 2005-06 - he's slumped horribly since then and managed only 12 in 66 games last season.
Ottawa had already added to its offense by signing free agent Alex Kovalev in July.
Kovalev, who had two stints with the Rangers, led Montreal with 26 goals and 65 points last season. He enters his 17th season needing six goals to reach 400 and 59 points for 1,000.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza are also back, and they'll need to produce more. Alfredsson had a team-high 74 points, but his 24 goals were his fewest since 2001. Spezza finished with 73 points after a career-best 92 in 2007-08.
Center Mike Fisher said this season's squad has much to prove.
"We're all excited to get going ... It's a season where we feel we've got a lot to prove, but we feel confident coming into it that we're a much improved team. We're looking forward to getting going and we think it's going to be a great year," he told the Senators' official Web site.
Ottawa (36-35-11) also will have a new face in goal in Pascal Leclaire, who gets a fresh start following an injury-plagued campaign and trade from Columbus after being replaced by eventual Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason.
Leclaire set career highs with the Blue Jackets in 2007-08 by totaling nine shutouts among 24 wins. Last season, though, he played only 12 games due to an ankle injury that required surgery.
Forward Jarko Ruutu said last season has been forgotten, but also provided a learning experience.
"We have to get off to a good start," he said. "You just have to build for the little things, like we did at the end of last year."
Playing at MSG could help the Senators get off on the right foot. Ottawa is 16-4-1 in its last 21 visits to Manhattan since 1998, holding the Rangers to one goal or less nine times.
To improve an offense that ranked 28th last season, New York signed Gaborik away from Minnesota, hoping the Wild's all-time scoring leader can provide a boost to a team that didn't have anyone tally more than 24 goals.
Gaborik found the back of the net early in the third period Friday, but the Rangers lost 3-2 in their season opener against defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh. The speedy but injury-prone winger logged nearly 24 1/2 minutes and had eight of New York's 27 shots.
While with Minnesota in 2004, he had three goals and two assists in a 5-2 victory over the Senators.
Captain Chris Drury also scored and Henrik Lundqvist had 28 saves Friday, but coach John Tortorella was not entirely pleased.
"I thought at times there were some really good minutes and other times we struggled," he said.
Lundqvist recorded 24 of his career-best 38 wins last season at MSG, but he's 2-5-0 with a 2.57 goals-against average in seven career home starts against Ottawa.
|Mar 02 '10||NYR 4 at OTT 1||B. Dubinsky|
|Jan 14 '10||OTT 2 at NYR 0||C. Campoli|
|Nov 14 '09||NYR 2 at OTT 1 - SO||P. Parenteau|
|Oct 03 '09||OTT 2 at NYR 5||M. Del Zotto|
|M. Del Zotto||2||1||0||1||+1||0||0||1|