Game Day 5: Senators vs. Maple Leafs, Jan 15
Ottawa Senators hockey is back! Our Game Day 5 has all of the latest ahead of tonight's tilt with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
We're finally back.
Ottawa Senators hockey returns tonight in a big way as they open their 2020-21 campaign against the Toronto Maple Leafs (1-0-0) in the Battle of Ontario.
This evening's game marks the first time in 310 days that the Sens have hit the ice. The team will have nine new faces in the line-up as they prepare for a 7 p.m. puck drop at Canadian Tire Centre.
The Sens announced its 23-man opening night roster Wednesday as well as a six-man taxi squad.
Tonight will see the NHL debut of Tim Stützle while Josh Brown, Braydon Coburn, Evgenii Dadonov, Erik Gudbranson, Matt Murray, Cedric Paquette, Derek Stepan and Austin Watson will all play their first games in an Ottawa Senators jersey.
Alex Galchenyuk, Mike Reilly and Colin White are scratched for Ottawa.
The Battle of Ontario stretches nearly 30 years and over 123 regular season contests, the Senators hold the all-time series lead at 64-46-10 (with three ties).
Tonight is the first of nine contests between the two sides this year as part of the North Division. They'll square off again Saturday night at Canadian Tire Centre.
Who to Watch
All eyes on the Senators' side will be on Stützle as he makes his highly anticipated NHL debut tonight. The German, who celebrates his 19th birthday today, has only been with the team since Sunday after ending his quarantine after the conclusion of the 2021 World Juniors, where he was named the best forward of the tournament.
Where to Watch
Friday's game can be seen live on TSN 5 and RDS at 7 p.m. Fans can also tune into the radio call on TSN 1200.
'They're going to be a force': Leafs ready for up and coming Sens
TORONTO — Sheldon Keefe doesn't expect the Ottawa Senators to be doormats much longer.
And after seeing many of their prospects up close in the minors the last few years, not to mention some key off-season acquisitions brought to the nation's capital, the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs believes the temperature of the once-nasty Battle of Ontario — a minor skirmish at the best of times since the mid-2000s — is about to rise significantly.
"The rivalry certainly will heat up," Keefe said. "They're a team that's going to get better every single day as an organization ... the number of young players they have coming in addition to all the players they've added, it's essentially an entirely new team.
"They're going to be a lot more competitive this season, and as they continue to develop they're going to be a force in the league."
The NHL's abbreviated 56-game schedule, which includes a newly formed North Division so Canada's seven clubs don't cross the U.S. border because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, will see the Senators and Leafs play nine times between now and May 5, including a back-to-back set Friday and Saturday in Ottawa.
Viewers in the Maple Leafs and Senators regions can watch the first meeting of the two teams LIVE on TSN4 or TSN5 at 7pm ET.
"Some of the toughest games we played in the regular season," Keefe said of his team's matchups with the Senators in 2019-20. "There's an extra sense of urgency when Ottawa plays against Toronto. I felt that.
"We're expecting no easy nights against the Senators."
There were, however, plenty of those for teams across the NHL in recent years.
Ottawa finished 30th, 31st and 30th the last three seasons following a stunning roster teardown not long after getting to within a goal of reaching the 2017 Stanley Cup final.
But the Senators now appear to be coming out of that painful rebuild.
A young core led by and was boosted at October's draft, most notably in the form of No. 3 pick Tim Stutzle. Ottawa also made a number of moves for veterans, including goalie , defencemen , and , as well as forwards , , and .
"They're obviously looking to make big strides," said Leafs captain , who grew up in the Toronto area and remembers the Battle of Ontario's heyday of the late 1990s and early 2000s. "They made a lot of strong moves in the off-season, they have a lot of young players they've been drafting and developing.
"Should be a lot of fun, should be a lot of battles, especially when we're seeing them as much as we are. A lot on the line, a lot to play for."
The Leafs opened the pandemic-altered schedule Wednesday with a 5-4 overtime victory at home against the Montreal Canadiens in a game where they looked half asleep until one of Toronto's off-season additions — — helped lift his team by fighting .
"Dropping the gloves and the momentum gained ... that can be talked about," Tavares said of Simmonds. "(But) just the intensity, just the attitude and engagement from him shift in and shift out, being involved physically, being around the puck. Skating, moving his feet, being hard to play against, all those intangibles.
"Having that in our lineup and him leading the charge just sends a great message and (sets) a great tone for the group, and is kind of what we're looking for."
The additions of Simmonds, fellow veteran forward and bruising defenceman were largely about effort and culture change in Toronto. Ottawa was looking for obvious talent upgrades, but also leadership qualities and an ability to insulate some of its youngsters.
Ottawa head coach D.J. Smith, an assistant with the Leafs from 2015 through 2019 under Mike Babcock, said there are similarities between what's happening with the Senators and what his old team went through before becoming a contender.
"It's a patient process," he said. "I believe in Ottawa we're going to have a good team for a long time."
The Senators, who weren't part of the NHL's summer restart and haven't played since March, are under no illusions about where they're likely to finish in the North Division. With the other six teams on the circuit at different stages of development and expectation, the reality is Ottawa should be in tough to finish anywhere other than last.
But the foundation Smith is intent on building is all about battling for every inch of ice — and setting the Senators up for the future.
"If we want to have any success farther down the road in the playoffs, you realize they're big, strong teams," he said. "The most competitive people win. We have to continue to be competitive.
"As long as do that, we're going to continue to climb."