Senators still in rebuilding mode

Associated Press
Ottawa Senators' Nick Foligno tries to score on Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Ottawa, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Adrian Wyld)
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OTTAWA (AP) — When Craig Anderson looks at his teammates lined up in front of him, the Ottawa Senators goaltender can't help but feel he's seen this situation before.

A team with a relatively unproven lineup and free of expectations, similar to one he played for a couple of seasons ago in Colorado, and one that proved to be among the surprises of the NHL by season's end.

Not much is expected of the Senators as the rebuilding process that began in February with the trade of several key veterans continues. In fact, most preseason predictions have them expected to finish closer to the bottom of the standings than the playoffs.

Anderson was 38-25-7 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .917 save percentage during the 2009-10 season and led Colorado to a playoff berth.

If Anderson can replicate that form, the Senators could spring a similar surprise on the rest of the Eastern Conference and return to postseason after missing out last spring, the second time in three years that's happened.

"If you came into the room every year thinking you weren't going to be in the playoffs, you wouldn't be in this league," Anderson said during training camp.

He arrived in a February trade from the Avalanche and got a four-year, $12.75 million contract extension to provide the Senators with a No. 1 goalie.

"You come in here with the attitude that you guys can beat anybody and youth, age, experience, it doesn't mean anything once the puck gets dropped out there. In general, it comes down to who wants it more."

Desire shouldn't be a problem for the Senators. They're eager to make up for a disastrous 32-40-10 showing that cost coach Cory Clouston his job.

General manager Bryan Murray signed a three-year contract extension, allowing him to follow through on the rebuilding process he began by shedding veteran salary before last season's trade deadline in favor of a youth movement.

His first order of business in the offseason was to hire Paul MacLean as coach.

MacLean is preaching a speed game, the kind played by the Detroit Red Wings, for whom he served with as an assistant under Mike Babcock for the past six seasons.

Of course, that'll be a tough ask given that the Senators don't have players comparable to forwards Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg or defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.

However, they do have players hungry to make sure they stay at the NHL level.

MacLean is a 53-year-old who made his name as a player with the Winnipeg Jets, Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues by scoring and playing a hard-nosed game.

"He understands we have a young team and mistakes are going to be made, but if we can be a good skating team, you can make up for those mistakes," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said.

"A lot of it is puck movement, too. On the back end, we have a lot of skill that can move up quick, which allows your team to be quick, too. If you can move the puck quick and transition quick and if we backcheck hard that allows us to transition quicker, we'll be a fast team."

On defense, the Senators need rebound seasons out of two of the team's elder statesmen, Chris Phillips and Sergei Gonchar, both of whom are coming off subpar seasons.

Gonchar was signed to be an offensive leader, but struggled with just 20 points in 67 games while posting a minus-15.

Fortunately for the team, young Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson had a breakout season.

While an improvement from the back end is necessary, Ottawa's biggest worry might just be who's going to put the puck in the other team's net considering only the New Jersey Devils (174 goals) managed to score fewer than Ottawa (192) last season.

The Senators will be hoping a full season out of Alfredsson may help remedy the situation.

He was limited to just 31 points in 54 games by a back injury that required offseason surgery, but he'll be 39 in December, so there will be question marks over his ability to remain healthy and contribute as much as he has in the past.

Jason Spezza managed to string together a strong finish to the season with 23 points over his final 15 games and he'll again be counted on to lead the offense.

One newcomer who made an impact in the preseason is Swedish rookie Mika Zibanejad, the team's first pick in June's draft (sixth overall), and he will be given a chance to start the season in the NHL.

The 18-year-old center, who can also play on the wing, has been one of the Senators' best players in the exhibition season.

"He's a powerful skater and strong on the puck," Alfredsson said of the newcomer.

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