Senators-Sabres Preview

Although their long-time leader is now playing elsewhere, the
Ottawa Senators are poised to sustain the success they’ve achieved
the past two seasons.

For the first time since the 1995 season, the Senators will take
the ice without Daniel Alfredsson when they visit the rebuilding
Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.

Ottawa recorded 92 points to reach the playoffs in 2011-12 and
went 25-17-6 in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, overcoming
injuries to Jason Spezza, 2012 Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson
and goalie Craig Anderson to again make the playoffs. It went on to
upset second-seeded Montreal in the first round.

“We probably surprised a few people last year with our injuries
and being able to finish the way that we did,” forward Zack Smith
told the Senators’ official website. “I think this year there are a
lot more expectations from different people, but if we’re a healthy
club it’s going to be exciting to see what we can actually do.”

It’s who is not in Ottawa, however, that drew some of the
biggest offseason headlines throughout the league.

After 17 seasons with the team, Alfredsson put off retirement
and signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal with Detroit. The
40-year-old is the franchise’s all-time leader in games, goals,
assists and points, but he scored 10 in 47 contests for a team that
ranked 27th with 112 goals during 2013.

The Senators are clearly focused on moving on, with coach Paul
MacLean responding to a question about Alfredsson at Wednesday’s
press conference by skirting the issue.

Asked if he was curious about the Red Wings’ opener against
Buffalo that night, MacLean told the team’s official website,
“We’ll watch it because they’re playing Buffalo, yeah. It’s been
three years since I was (a Detroit assistant coach), they’ve
changed so much.”

The Senators moved to upgrade their offense in the offseason by
acquiring Bobby Ryan from Anaheim in a deal that sent talented
young forward Jakob Silfverberg west. Ryan scored at least 31 goals
in each of the four seasons prior to 2013, when he had 11 in 46
games.

“He shoots the puck in the net and that’s something we haven’t
had here since I’ve been here,” MacLean said. “Having someone with
that ability certainly should help our confidence as a team as far
as it comes to scoring goals.”

A healthy Spezza should also help.

The recently named captain matched a career high with 34 goals
in 2011-12, but back problems limited him to two and four assists
in eight regular season and playoff games in 2013.

Ryan, Spezza and Karlsson hope to mesh well with young forwards
Cory Conacher and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who combined for seven
playoff goals last season.

“I don’t think we’ll be 27th (in scoring),” general manager
Bryan Murray said of this season. “But you never know. But I think
we’ve got enough offense.”

Ottawa’s offensive deficiencies in 2013 were largely offset by
its conference-best 2.08 goals-against average. Anderson went
12-9-2 with a 1.69 GAA despite missing 18 games due to an ankle
injury, while backup Robin Lehner had a 2.20 GAA in 12 starts.

Ottawa won the first three meetings with the Sabres last season
before losing 4-2 at Buffalo on April 5.

The Sabres look to bounce back from their 2-1 loss at Detroit on
Wednesday. Zemgus Girgensons scored in his NHL debut, but Buffalo
went 0 for 7 on the power play and failed to convert on a pair of
two-man advantages.

The Sabres ranked 29th on the power play last season at 14.1
percent.

“(The veterans) know that we’re going to have to lead the team,
especially the power-play guys,” co-captain Steve Ott told the
Sabres’ official website. “In low-scoring games, in a 2-1 game,
those are the ones that win you games.”

The 19-year-old Girgensons was one of three teenagers in the
Sabres’ lineup.

Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek had a team-high 20 goals and 21 assists
in 38 games last season, but he’s been held to two assists in his
last eight games against the Senators.

Karlsson has six goals and four assists in his last nine versus
Buffalo.

Sabres forward Ville Leino is out indefinitely due to a broken
rib suffered against the Red Wings. Leino played in eight games
last season because of a hip injury.