The Senators will have the opportunity to evaluate playing two games in Toronto

TORONTO — The Ottawa Senators will kick off the preseason with a rare doubleheader on Saturday.

After concluding day 2 of training camp on Friday at the Canadian Tire Centre, 45 players packed their bags and boarded the club’s short flight to the Big Smoke in the afternoon.

On Saturday, the battle for training camp jobs will begin in earnest when the Senators take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at 1 pm and 7 pm at Scotiabank Arena.

No, this isn’t decisive, but going forward these two games will help determine where everyone fits in when GM Pierre Dorion, coach DJ Smith and the rest of the hockey operations staff make the final decisions.

The good news is that it gives young players a chance to take on the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Michael Nylander. The Leafs hope to be contenders this season and the Senators will have a better idea of ​​where people stand.

“You want to see what players can do against other NHL players,” Smith said Friday. “The structure is going to help a lot of players, especially (those) who have been in the league for a long time. They will be able to trust the structure and its intelligence.

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

All players have different goals during the preseason.

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

The players signed to go to the club’s AHL affiliate in Belleville want to show the organization that they deserve to be among the first to be called up if there are injuries.

Young players who haven’t had a chance to play in the NHL want to show that they belong at this level. That’s why you’re going to see a lot of mix-and-matches over 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 up front together for the first time. All this makes these games intriguing.

The club has only held two scrimmages, so if you feel like the Senators are jumping into the preseason pretty quickly, you’re right.

“This is the first time I’ve experienced just a few days and then an exhibition game,” Smith said. “Typically, you would have another game within the team (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 the guys. It will be more like a game between squads because the teams will be split fairly evenly.”

The good news is that this will give Senators a chance to watch everyone they want to watch at least once.

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

Veteran Anton Forsberg, who carried the ball for this team last season, will open the cup. Again, it would make sense if Belleville’s Mads Sogaard also played the second half of that one.

Goalkeeping coach Zac Bierk has laid out a plan for how the Senators will use their goalkeepers during the preseason. Talbot, 35, said he just wants enough playing time to make sure he’s ready.

“Usually 2.5 to 3.5 games is a good idea. You want to overdo it in the preseason. It’s already a long season,” he said. “You’d like to have a half game to start with, then maybe a couple of full games and a third mixed in there.”

As has been well documented, the Senators made a lot of changes during the offseason, so they want to start building chemistry before the puck really drops on Oct. 13 against the Buffalo Sabers down the road.

This is just the first step in making sure everyone is on the same page. The club will send a group to Winnipeg made up mostly of young players due to the long trips involved on game day.

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

With 59 players in camp, the Senators will start to have more viable numbers in the near future. Junior forwards Dalyn Wakely, Reid Valade and defenseman Chandler Romeo were sent back to their OHL teams on Friday.

Those trying to make a good impression must do so quickly.

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

“And if they can do it under the real referees, the real rules and all that stuff. It usually fixes itself.”

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Twitter: @sungarrioch

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