Senators will get a chance to evaluate by playing two games in Toronto

“You want to see what players can do it against other NHL players.”

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TORONTO — The Ottawa Senators will kick off the pre-season with a rare doubleheader Saturday.

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After wrapping up Day 2 of training camp Friday at the Canadian Tire Centre, 45 players packed their bags and boarded a play for the short flight to the Big Smoke.

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On Saturday, the battle for jobs in training camp will begin in earnest as the Senators face the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1 pm and 7 pm puck drops at Scotiabank Arena.

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No, this isn’t make or break, but down the road these two games will help determine where everybody fits when general manager Pierre Dorion, head coach DJ Smith and the rest of the hockey operations staff make final decisions.

The good news is that it gives the young players a chance to face off against the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Michael Nylander. The Leafs are hoping to be National Hockey League contenders this season.

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“You want to see what players can do it against other NHL players,” Smith said Friday. “Structure is going to help a lot of players, especially (those) that have been in the league a long time. They’ll be able to rely on structure and their smarts.

“You’ve got to be able to play inside the NHL game. That’s what some of these exhibition games will show us.”

Players all have different goals during the pre-season.

The returning players are trying to use them as a tune-up to make sure they’re ready for when the puck drops for real.

Players tabbed to go to the Senators’ American Hockey League affiliate in Belleville want to show the organization they deserve to be among the first called up to the NHL if there are injuries.

Young players that haven’t had the chance to play in the NHL because to show they belong at this level.

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That’s why you’re going to see a lot of mixing and matching in the next three weeks.

We’ll get our first chance to see top prospect Jake Sanderson against NHL players, while Alex DeBrincat, Claude Giroux and Tim Stutzle will skate together up front for the first time. All this makes these games intriguing.

The Senators have only held two scrimmages, so, if you feel like they are jumping into the pre-season pretty quickly, you’re correct.

“This is the first time I’ve experienced just two days and then an exhibition game,” Smith said. “Typically, you’d have another intra-squad game (Saturday).

“It’s an NHL game and you’re going to do everything you can to be competitive, but, at the same time, we’re evaluating guys. It’s going to be more like an intra-squad game because the teams will be split fairly evenly.”

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The good news is this will give the Senators a chance to look at everyone they want to see at least once.

Goaltender Cam Talbot, acquired from the Minnesota Wild in the off-season, will start Game 1. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he played 30 minutes before Kevin Mandolese takes over.

Anton Forsberg, who carried the ball for the Senators last season, will start the nightcap. Again, it would make sense if Belleville’s Mads Sogaard played the second half of that one.

Goalie coach Zac Bierk has set out a plan on how the Senators will use their netminders during the pre-season. The 35-year-old Talbot noted he just wanted enough playing time to make sure he would be ready for the regular season.

“Usually, 2.5-to-3.5 games is a pretty idea. You want to overbag yourself in the pre-season. It’s a long season as it is,” Talbot said. “You’d like to have a half-game to start, then maybe a couple of full ones and a third one mixed in there.”

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As has been well-documented, the Senators made a lot of changes during the off-season, so they want to start building chemistry before the puck is dropped for real Oct. 13 against the Buffalo Sabres.

This is just the first step in making sure everybody is on the same page. The club will then send a group to Winnipeg made up mostly of young players because of the lengthy travel involved on a game day.

“This will shift to another gear Sunday, when we host Fan Fest and we start changing to some special-teams work,” Smith said. “(Camp) will really (change) after the Winnipeg game (Tuesday). That will clear some things up. We’ll have a little better look.”

With 59 players in camp, the Senators will start getting down to more workable numbers soon. Junior forwards Dalyn Wakely and Reid Valade and defenseman Chandler Romeo were all sent back to their Ontario Hockey League teams Friday.

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Those trying to make an impression have to do so quickly.

“When you’re playing against a team like Toronto that’s as deep as they are, you’re playing against a good lineup whatever lineup you get,” Smith said. “That’s better for us because you get to find out if guys can do it against the league’s better guys.

“And, if they can do it under the real refs, the real rules and all those things. Typically it always sorts itself out.”

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