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Feb 9, 2024 10:33 pm

Senators eye season-series win over rival Leafs

Stutzle

Riding a wave of confidence after winning five of their past seven games, the Toronto Maple Leafs face a road game Saturday against the Ottawa Senators, who tied for the lowest point total in the Eastern Conference.

Coming off a 5-4 comeback win over the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, the Leafs shifted their regular routines between games, taking their regular Thursday practice outside, with head coach Sheldon Keefe leading the group in front of hundreds of fans at a rink outside Toronto’s City Hall.

With participation from the city’s new Professional Women’s Hockey League team and a cameo from forward William Nylander’s two dogs, it was far from an intense practice. Still, it boosted the group amid its battle for an Atlantic Division playoff spot.

Toronto sits one point up on the Tampa Bay Lightning for the third spot in the division.

“Any time you come out here, it never seems to fall into a great spot in the schedule,” Keefe said. “You’d like to get a day off and all of that, but this is a nice time to come out, see the engagement with the fans. It is a special thing to be a Leaf. On an opportunity like this, you can feel it.”

The Senators, sitting last in the Atlantic, are set for their first game back from the All-Star break. They continue to lag behind with just 47 games played, tied with the Edmonton Oilers for the fewest in the NHL entering Saturday.

“I feel like ever since we got back from Sweden (in November), we’ve been playing almost every second day,” Ottawa winger Drake Batherson said. “So, to get a break, you can just see it in the room. … The guys are fresh.

“Everyone was here relatively earlier than a normal day. Everyone’s excited to get back, and we’re playing a team that’s already played a couple of games, so we’ve got to be ready to go.”

The Senators enter the matchup in good form, coming off overtime victories against the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings, with an opportunity to win three in a row for the third time this season and the first time since November.

If the Senators are to take down their provincial rivals, they will need continued strong play from 22-year-old forward Tim Stutzle, whose 47 points have him operating at a point-per-game pace for the second straight season.

The Senators will be missing star defenseman Jake Sanderson, whose lower-body injury from before the break continues to hold him out. That creates a challenge for Ottawa’s 28th-ranked 74.3 percent penalty kill going up against Toronto’s 26.6 percent power play, which was tied for fourth entering Friday.

Ottawa will attempt to clinch the season series against the Maple Leafs for the first time since 2018-19. The Senators won 6-3 at Toronto on Nov. 8 thanks to two goals apiece from Dominik Kubalik and Claude Giroux. The Maple Leafs downed the visiting Senators 4-3 on Dec. 7, and Ottawa prevailed 4-2 at Toronto on Dec. 27 as Batherson scored twice.

–Field Level Media

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