There is a lot of pressure on both teams heading into the new year, and their first test is against each other in the preseason.
Toronto finished 29th in the league last year, and must improve in many ways to be able to make the goal of the playoffs.
Ottawa played very well at times last year, but suffered another painful playoff exit. With the addition of Sergei Gonchar on the blue line, they expect to once again make the playoffs, and go deeper into them.
Toronto and Ottawa will play each other six times throughout the season, and three more to get started in the preseason.
Needless to say, there is a lot of points riding on these contests and could determine whether a team is in the playoffs or not.
Toronto had a history of knocking Ottawa out of the playoffs, but since they haven't made it in five seasons, they haven't really had the chance.
There is a lot of new faces in the Maple Leafs' lineup, who likely have already been filled in on the importance of these matches. Colby Armstrong, Mike Brown, and Kris Versteeg will likely due their part of continue the tradition of fierce competitiveness.
The Leafs got the better of the Senators last year, going 4-2 in the series, with 17 goals for and 9 against.
As said before, the Leafs have often been a thorn in the Ottawa side, but it sure wasn't the case on Tuesday night for the first preseason game; the Leafs looked outmatched in skill and organization, as they couldn't seem to create any solid rushes or convert on the power play.
Special teams were the bane of the team last year, finishing dead last in the league in both power play and penalty kill, so improving on that will be one of the primary concerns.
Ottawa won this game 5-0, but the game wasn't all bad on the Leafs' end. For one, they went up against a very hot goaltender in Robin Lehner, who showed why the Senators organization is so high on him with a great night in net.
Versteeg looked quite strong at times—it looks like he will quickly become a fan favourite with his quick moves and soft hands. Brett Lebda also looked quite good in the defensive end, skating well and making smart plays with some accurate shots. Also, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, and Mikhail Grabovski didn't play tonight for the forwards, so three of their strongest offensive weapons weren't in use.
Then again, the Senators didn't dress Milan Michalek, Daniel Alfredsson, Alex Kovalev, and Sergei Gonchar, among others.
This isn't to say that there was a excuse for falling 5-0 in the first game with five NHL defensemen dressed, but all the same the training camp only started on Friday, so it is pretty early to make any declarative statements.
What happens in the regular season is what will matter, and with the Leafs edge in physicality and improved goaltending they have a good chance of again winning most of the games.
A lot will depend on whether the Leafs' offense is capable of putting the puck in the net, and if either Pascal Leclaire or Brian Elliot can emerge as a legitimate number one in net for Ottawa.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!