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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Saturday, October 3rd (All times eastern)

Ottawa Senators (0-0-0) at New York Rangers (0-1-0), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The Ottawa Senators will unveil their new-look lineup when last year's disappointments begin their 2009-10 season with tonight's trip to historic Madison Square Garden to battle the New York Rangers.

Ottawa had a string of 11 consecutive playoff appearances end with an 11th- place finish in the Eastern Conference a season ago, and the franchise's 83 points were its lowest total since 1997-98. That subpar performance led to a series of sweeping offseason changes, the most notable being last month's departure of disgruntled left wing Dany Heatley.

Heatley, a four-time All-Star with a pair of 50-goal seasons to his credit, was traded to the San Jose Sharks on September 12 in exchange for forwards Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek plus a second-round pick in the 2010 draft. The 29-year-old Cheechoo led the NHL with 56 goals back in 2005-06 but hasn't come close to that level in recent years, bottoming out with a 12- goal, 29-point campaign for the Sharks last year.

In an effort to fill the void on Ottawa's top line of standout center Jason Spezza and captain Daniel Alfredsson, the team signed veteran wing Alex Kovalev to a two-year, $10-million contract in July. The 36-year-old topped Montreal with 65 points (26 goals, 39 assists) in 78 games last year, although that was a dropoff from his 34-goal, 84-point season in 2007-08.

Tonight's matchup also marks the long-awaited Senators debut of goaltender Pascal Leclaire, acquired by Ottawa from Columbus at last March's trade deadline but unable to play the season's final few months due to an ankle injury that required surgery. The 26-year-old was one of the league's top netminders with the Blue Jackets in 2007-08, a year in which he recorded nine shutouts and a 2.25 goals against average.

Meanwhile, the Rangers will try to bounce back in their home opener after dropping Friday's road decision in Pittsburgh to begin the 2009-10 campaign. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby each scored a goal, as the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins began their title defense with a 3-2 win over the at Mellon Arena.

New York's key offseason acquisition, former Minnesota forward Marian Gaborik, scored a goal in the loss while Chris Drury had the other tally for the Rangers, who fell in a seven-game conference quarterfinal to Washington last season despite holding a 3-1 series lead.

Henrik Lundqvist allowed three goals on 31 shots in defeat.

"I thought we did some really good things in the second period," said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. "Had some chances to score some goals. I thought that was an important time. We needed to score some goals there when we had our chances and we didn't."

Following tonight's test, the Rangers will head out on a two-game road trip, making stops in New Jersey and Washington.

These teams split four overall meetings last season, but the Senators have enjoyed great success when traveling to Madison Square Garden in the past. Ottawa has amassed a 6-0-1 record in its last seven visits to the venue and is 10-2-1 over its 13 most recent contests as the visitor in this series.

10/03 10:56:43 ET

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