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Ottawa Senators hoping to avoid playoff hangover this season

As players were put through their paces in fitness and medical tests Thursday, their knowledge of the fate of Stanley Cup finalists was also challenged. Not since the 1984 Edmonton Oilers has the Cup loser from one season gone on to win it the next. It's a dubious distinction the Senators have been well made aware of - both from outside the organization and within. It's also a trend they want to avoid.

"Everybody's talked about it so much," centre Jason Spezza said at Scotiabank Place, where the team reconvened for the first time since its march to the final ended with a five-game loss to the Anaheim Ducks in June. "Everyone was sure not to take off too much time in the summer.

"The whole organization is aware of that stat, so we're going to do our best to make sure we're not a part of it."

Last season, the Senators saw both 2006 finalists, the Edmonton Oilers and champion Carolina Hurricanes, fail to even qualify for the post-season.

"That's not an option for us," said centre Mike Fisher, who's nursing a groin injury and will miss the start of on-ice workouts, which don't being until Saturday. "We were able to keep a lot of our guys, which other teams couldn't do."

In fact, other than former assistant coach John Paddock assuming the head coaching duties after Bryan Murray moved upstairs into the general manager's chair, the Senators are a largely unchanged unit from the one that finally kicked its string of playoff failures by advancing to the final.

Defenceman Tom Preissing, who played on the team's third blue-line pairing, signed with the Los Angeles Kings and forward Mike Comrie inked a deal to join the New York Islanders. Another forward, Oleg Saprykin, returned to Russia while Peter Schaefer was dealt to the Boston Bruins for Shean Donovan in a swap of wingers.

Veteran rearguard Luke Richardson, 38, was also brought in for depth.

The players are expecting a smooth transition to life under Paddock and, because of that lack of a player exodus, expectations are high once again in Canada's capital. Failing to reach the final again, and this time win, will likely be regarded as a step backward by an organization and fan base that's now had a taste of winning after years of playoff disappointments.

Murray's hope for the players is that the experience of last year's run will prevent any ennui from setting in. His message to them Thursday was simple:

"Just to continue to grow, continue to get better, learn from what we went through," he said. "I know there is some history for finalists and that won't be repeated."

Another thing the lack of player movement has done is left few openings at camp for new faces.

The Senators have room for one forward, pending on whether utility man Christoph Schubert is used as a defenceman or up front. Murray said Schubert's own preference is for the blue-line, which could open up a second spot up front.

It's believed that rookie Nick Foligno, the son of ex-NHLer Mike, will get a look, but could start the year in the AHL with the Binghamton Senators after graduation from the Ontario Hockey League's Sudbury Wolves.

The Senators open the exhibition season Tuesday with a game in London, Ont., against the Philadelphia Flyers.

In addition to Fisher, goaltender Ray Emery, who underwent surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left, catching hand, in June, is still recovering.

He's been taking light shots in informal workouts and said this week he hopes to see at least some game action toward the end of the pre-season and all but guaranteed he'll be ready to go for Ottawa's Oct. 3 opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I expect it to be 100 per cent shortly," Emery said. "(The injury) really dragged the year out, so I'm looking forward to having a pain-free, injury-free season."

Having a healthy Emery should help Ottawa avoid the type of start it had last season when it stalled out of the gate only to rally and catch fire after Christmas.

With the hangover theory clouding their horizon already, the Senators are keen to avoid that type of stumble and give any ammunition to the hangover theorists.

"Personally, I don't believe in that," captain Daniel Alfredsson said.

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