by Todd Anderson
Ottawa Senators general manager John Muckler and his head coach, Bryan Murray, see a lot of similarities between their club and the Eastern Conference-leading Buffalo Sabres, whom the Senators visit tonight.
While the Sabres have been the dominant team in the Northeast Division standings this season -- with 76 points they lead second-place Montreal by 12 and third-place Ottawa by 13 -- the Senators have had their way with Buffalo. Ottawa has won four of the five meetings against the team that bounced them from the second round of last year's playoffs.
"They're a very good hockey club," Muckler said today from Buffalo after his team participated in an optional morning skate. "I think the main thing is we match up very well with their personnel. Both teams have goaltenders that are playing well. Both have mobile defence and get a lot of offensive production from our D. We both have stars up front. We're both offensive teams that play defence very well. So I think it's a good match."
The Sabres defeated the Atlanta Thrashers 4-3 in a shootout last night and Murray expects them to be hungry for another win tonight. He hopes, however, that his club can extend its team-record four-game winning streak over Buffalo and leap frog over Montreal in the standings.
"I expect (Buffalo) will play close to their top game," Murray said. "We're comparable teams. The games have been real hard fought so far. We match fairly well.
"We need the points. You can see everyone bunching up for playoff spots now. Last night there were five, three-point games. It's going to continue because people have tightened up and are playing better. It's going to be a real challenge now."
Murray wants to ensure his players are prepared for the challenge that lies ahead. As was the case this morning, expect the coach to give his players more opportunity to choose when they practise for the remainder of the season.
"You like them to have an optional (practice). I just want them to be rested and ready to go and play well in the games."
Patrick Eaves continues to suffer with a sore ankle. He'll be a game-time decision tonight.