When the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres meet at the Bell Centre tonight, it might seem like they're looking into a mirror when they stare at the opposing bench.
Except for one major difference -- their respective positions in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Sabres (3-1-0) may be looking down at the Canadiens (1-2-1) at the moment, but it is quite remarkable to see how similarly the two teams are built.
Both had a major influx of new talent over the course of one offseason, both lack a true scoring superstar but have enough depth up front to roll three offensive lines, both have seemingly emphasized speed over size in their forward groups, both have a young, stud defenseman that eats up a lot of minutes, and both count on a world-class goaltender.
"They're a little like us in a sense," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. 'They've got some new pieces, they have an (Erik) Cole who's trying to fit in, they're trying to figure out how to utilize some pieces. They've given up more goals than we've seen in the past, but they have good team speed. They've got some guys from the back end that can join and make some plays. So we have to be aware of certain plays and certain individuals."
The Canadiens have a good deal more urgency about them than the Sabres do, and with good reason. Neither goaltender Carey Price nor defenseman P.K. Subban has gotten off to a strong start to the season, and they've both taken some heat lately for the team's pedestrian record to date.
Meanwhile, the Canadiens' special teams -- normally a strength -- has faltered to the tune of a 20th place ranking for the power play and 23rd on the penalty kill.
And Buffalo is the strongest test the Canadiens have faced so far this season, being their first opponent who qualified for last season's playoffs. But a struggling team has Ruff leery of what the Sabres will face tonight.
"I've read some stuff where they need a better performance out of certain individuals, and I think the pride factor for them at home is going to be a big deal," he said. "We don't want to play like we did in our last home game (a 4-3 loss to Carolina), and I'm sure they don't want to play the way they did their last home game. I think we're going to see a different team."
The Sabres entered the season with heightened expectations after bringing in Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino through free agency and acquiring Robyn Regehr in a trade with the Calgary Flames. Add those players to the acquisition of Brad Boyes at the trade deadline last season and the early-season emergence of rookie center Luke Adam, and the city of Buffalo is buzzing about their Sabres' chances for the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
External expectations are one thing; living up to them on the ice is another. Through the early going, the Sabres are doing just that.
"So far I've liked our attitude, but we still have a long way to go," goaltender Ryan Miller said. "But that is also encouraging because I think we have a whole other level of hockey we can play with some attention to detail and getting to know each other a little better with our lines and our (defense) pairings. I think that's a good thing."
And likely a scary thing for the rest of the Eastern Conference.