Maple Leafs-Senators Preview
Milan Michalek always found it disconcerting to see the vast number of Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys when he was with the Ottawa Senators in home matchups between the Atlantic Division rivals.
Now he'll get to enjoy the view as he takes part in the rivalry for the first time on the other side with the visiting Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
Michalek was part of the blockbuster nine-player deal between these clubs Feb. 9 in which Dion Phaneuf joined the Senators (31-30-8). These teams met for the first time since that trade last Saturday when Ottawa won 3-2 on the road.
Michalek was still out with a fractured finger on his right hand at the time, but he's returned to play two games for his first action with Toronto. He's looking forward to being in a favorable atmosphere at the Canadian Tire Centre for a change in this matchup.
"I always know in Ottawa, it's going to be a lot of Toronto fans when we play there so it felt like we're playing on the road," Michalek said. "So it's going to be fun (Saturday), it's going to be almost like playing at home."
The Senators prevailed last weekend in Phaneuf's return to Toronto by rallying from a goal down with two in the third period, including Zack Smith's winner with 2:15 left. Phaneuf and Colin Greening, one of the players acquired in the deal by the Leafs, dropped their gloves and fought in the first period.
Ottawa improved to 3-0-0 in the season series and can finish with its first perfect record against Toronto (22-33-11) since capturing all five 2000-01 meetings. The Senators have totaled 15 goals in winning three straight at home in the series.
They haven't won since beating the Leafs, going 0-2-1 after falling 6-2 at Florida on Thursday by conceding the game's final four goals.
''I thought we had a real good start then we got stubborn,'' coach Dave Cameron said. ''We force things and we try to make something happen when it's low percentage. The puck ends up in the back of your net, the other team gets momentum and you're chasing the game. It's frustrating to watch that stubbornness beat us night after night."
The Senators now try to avoid matching a season-worst four-game home slide. They admit they are feeling the pressure as their postseason hopes dwindle.
"I think we all know that we're going to have to win games to give ourselves a chance and it's going to force us to do things sometimes that you normally don't do," defenseman Erik Karlsson said.
With the league's worst record, the Maple Leafs have turned to younger players and will give 20-year-old defenseman Rinat Valiev his NHL debut Saturday. The Russian is a 2014 third-round pick.
His countryman, winger Nikita Soshnikov, is creating a buzz with two goals and an assist in his first six NHL games.
"He's a fun, young kid, really a fun guy in the locker room although you guys might not see the most of it, really energetic, a lot of fun to play with," teammate Brooks Laich said.
Another rookie who has scored twice in six games is William Nylander, who had his first power-play tally Wednesday as Toronto ended an 0-5-1 slide with a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders.
Smith has scored in a career-high four straight games and has eight points in a seven-game streak, also a career best.