A two-goal deficit may not be the most difficult thing the Buffalo Sabres have to overcome this week. After rallying Wednesday night to claim a 3-2 shootout win against the Montreal Canadiens, the Sabres have to prepare for their next challenge – defeating the Ottawa Senators.
In order to beat a team that has won seven of the last nine meetings at HSBC Arena, the Sabres ultimately have to conquer themselves.
“It’s just a mental block,” Steve Montador said. “We know we’re a good team. We know they’re a good team. But if we play the way we know we can play, starting from our D zone out to the neutral zone through the offensive zone… the result will take care of itself.”
Head Coach Lindy Ruff said if the Sabres can overcome the mental aspect and stick to their game plan, success will be imminent.
“The last [game] here at home, until the final minute, we were real close to playing our game,” Ruff said of Buffalo’s 4-2 loss to the Sens on Feb. 2, in which Daniel Alfredsson scored twice in the waning seconds of regulation to win. “We went over them, and we found a lot of different ways of losing; from not playing our neutral zone system very well to not having proper positioning in our zone to losing the special teams battle.
“I think you’ve got to guard against that [frustration] but it’s there and we know we’re going to have to deal with it.”
The Sabres primarily worked on special teams during Thursday’s practice, preparing to meet the Sens. After scoring five goals with the man advantage in the last six games, the Sabres struggled on the power play Wednesday night. Tim Connolly eventually beat Carey Price with the Habs in the box; however, Ruff said it still needs improvement.
“Last night I just thought we got off track,” he said. “We turned into individuals, we tried individual efforts, we didn’t get a lot of pucks to the net. I didn’t think it was giving us momentum in the game. I thought it was taking it away.”
The Sabres are going to need all the momentum they can get on Friday. Ottawa is coming into Buffalo riding a two-game winning streak and is doing its best to close the gap in the Northeast. The Sabres are currently in first in the division with 90 points and 10 games remaining in the regular season. However, the Senators aren’t far behind in second place with 83 points and eight games remaining.
“Both teams for the most part have been playing really well over the last week or so,” Montador said. “Obviously it’s as crucial for them standings-wise as it is for us. It’s important for both teams to set the tone for playoffs and beyond.”
So how do they overcome the mental stigma that comes with playing Ottawa?
“The only way of getting rid of it – going out and winning a game,” Ruff said.
“If we keep thinking that big, bad Ottawa is going to come and beat us, then that’s our fault,” Montador added. “We’re at a stage now where we’ve had many lessons to have learned from this year. Tomorrow should be a good game to prove that we have done that.”