Maple Leafs, Senators meet in Battle of Ontario

TORONTO — The so-called Battle of Ontario figures to be a mismatch this season.

The Ottawa Senators, who visit the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night in the second game of the season for each team, are a stripped-down version of a team that once made it a rivalry worth watching.

While the Maples Leafs signed free-agent star John Tavares in the offseason, the Senators traded their brilliant defenseman Erik Karlsson. Left winger Mike Hoffman, a steady scorer, also was traded.

“Some people think we’re going to go 0-82 this (season),” Senators defenseman Thomas Chabot quipped before Ottawa’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the season-opener on Thursday.

The Senators had a chance to win their opener. The Hawks needed a goal at 12:18 of the third period to force overtime.

“It gives us a little bit of confidence here, knowing we played some pretty good hockey,” Senators goaltender Craig Anderson said. “Something to build on.”

The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, are considered Stanley Cup contenders, and they did not play as well as expected in their opener. The Leafs needed an overtime goal from Auston Matthews to defeat the rebuilding Montreal Canadiens 3-2 on Wednesday night.

“I thought they kind of outworked us most of the game and had us back on our heels,” said Matthews, who scored twice in the opener, “but a lot we can learn from and move forward. It’s a good two points for us.”

Obviously, the biggest question about the Senators is how they will cope without Karlsson, who would see the most time on the ice among the defenders. Against the Blackhawks, the ice time was evenly distributed among the top four of Chabot, Chris Wideman, Mark Borowiecki and Cody Ceci, with Maxime Lajoie and Dylan DeMelo used slightly less. Lajoie, 20, scored a goal in his NHL debut.

“We’re going to try different things,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said. “It’s very early, with so many new people. We were home, too, so we had last change. When we’re going to be on the road, we’re going to be more exposed. That’s clear. So, we’re going to have to figure out what’s best. … we’re getting to know these guys, and every day they’re growing, too. They’re just going to get better.”

Boucher said he might have to split Borowiecki and Ceci in games on the road “to make sure we have enough experience on the different pairs.”

“I thought we played a pretty solid third period,” Senators center Matt Duchene said. “We had a couple of tough bounces. The boys played great. We’re going to hold our heads high after this one. We’re going to prepare for Toronto.”

Senators left winger Brady Tkachuk is listed as day-to-day with a mild groin injury and defenseman Ben Harpur was a healthy scratch Thursday.

As disappointing as the Maple Leafs were in their opener at home, they did get a goal from Tavares.

“In the end, we won the game,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said, “But, we have to work way harder and play way better than we did (Wednesday). You guys can write all you want and tell everyone how great we are, but it’s the National Hockey League and you’ve got to come to work every day. If you don’t work harder than the other team, if you don’t put your work before your talent, you don’t win. If you turn the puck over, you don’t win. There’s probably lots of good messages.”

Frederik Andersen will start in goal again for the Maple Leafs Saturday with backup Garret Sparks slated to start Sunday in Chicago.

“We can focus on working harder (Saturday), but at the same time, working smarter is probably a better case scenario,” said Andersen, who made 34 saves on Wednesday. “They kind of know what’s coming at them every time and we just need to be a little bit more deceptive, not throwing the puck away in their zone, just hanging onto it, making the right play.”