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Catching up with the Ottawa Senators - welcome back Sens Army

First let's take care of business. Pensburgh and fellow SBN blogs Mile High Hockey and Winging it in Motown were featured on ESPN the Magazine's site : check it out.

Now where were we?  Ah yes, I remember. 

Wudda ya know?  The first team the Penguins eliminated in the playoffs is the first team they face to open the season. 

Granted the correlation doesn't carry over in any way whatsoever, but I just felt like taking a jab.

And so it is my pleasure to welcome back Sens Army to the Pensburgh platform.  As you may remember, our good buddies over at The Army are loyal and devout members who work for nothing more than three square meals a day. 

You may recall Sens Army's appearance in the Eastern Conference preview.  A gracious contribution no doubt.

Yesterday, Peter and I exchanged additional catch-up e-mails.  You can read mine over there.  In the mean time, the floor here on Pensburgh is all yours Sens Army.

Maybe we didn't go 4-0-1 in the pre-season, but most Sens fans should be cautiously optimistic about the 4-2 record the Ottawa squad earned in the pre-season.

Little practice time prevented any semblance of a coherent powerplay for the Sens in the pre-season. The team notched one PP goal in the six games, and defencemen Filip Kuba, Alex Picard, Brian Lee, and Christoph Schubert didn't really impress on the point. Still, with a few more practices under their belt, and the CASH Line of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, and Daniel Alfredsson reunited and poised to play on the powerplay, this team shouldn't be as bad as last season on the powerplay.

Goaltending remains at issue. Alex Auld was about as inconsistent as expected: A solid performance against New York was not enough to counter a 5-0 loss to Montreal, and his 0-2 record is not at all reassuring. Martin Gerber went 4-0, and looked good at times, but on two occasions allowed a goal on the first shot of the game. Tough way to start, but if his goals-against average stays around 1.00 the team won't have goaltending or defence as an excuse this season.

Why will there be no excuse? The firepower. Spezza, Heatley, and Alfredsson remain among the league's best when separate, and the CASH Line is greater than the sum of its parts. The secondary scoring isn't completely solved, but a better year from Chris Neil—who actually led the team with three goals—might combine with a full-season of effort from Nick Foligno and Jesse Winchester, both of whom are expected to produce something in second-line roles in their first full years of NHL play. Coach Craig Hartsburg seems conflicted whether to play Mike Fisher as a second-line scorer with a physical upside or a third-line checker with an offensive upside, and—for now at least—appears willing to try him as a scorer (unless this groin injury, which took a turn for the worse on Thursday against Frolunda, is bad enough to keep him out of the lineup). That experiment will be given time. Finally, Antoine Vermette was given a contract extension, and will be given ample opportunity to prove he's worth the money. The only way he can do so is to finally become the top-six playmaker the team needs, and at least match the 53 points he notched last season.

You guys know Jarkko Ruutu well enough. You'll get to know Cody Bass. Neil appears ready to rebound after a poor year last year. All of Schubert, Fisher, Foligno, and Shean Donovan are physical players. The Sens' d-corps is as big as it's ever been, with each player being at least 6' and over 200 lbs. There will be no shortage of grit this year.

The attitudinal change might be the most significant for the Senators, though, and if players buy into it, this team should be much better than the 2007-08 squad on the ice.

So let the puck drop, already. For Sens fans, the off-season has been far too long.

Sens Army