The Ottawa Senators surely know how the Buffalo Sabres feel.
And that being said, there’s not a chance the Senators will look past their struggling Northeast Division rivals when the two teams square off at Scotiabank Place on Thursday night (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200).
The Sabres, who were rocked by the free-agent defections of centres Daniel Brière and Chris Drury over the summer, have stumbled out of the gate with a 6-9-1 record that has landed them in the Northeast basement. Ottawa, meanwhile, is soaring at 14-2-0 – the best mark in the National Hockey League.
Ironically, it’s a complete role reversal from a year ago, when the Sens were fighting through a 6-9-1 start of their own and the Sabres were the wonder boys, posting a near-perfect 14-1-1 mark.
No wonder, then, that the Senators remain wary of the wounded Sabres.
“We know we’re playing a desperate hockey club,” said Senators centre Jason Spezza
after practice Wednesday at Scotiabank Place. “We know how we felt last year when we were in that position … all they’re thinking about is trying to get out of their slump and win hockey games.
“They’re a dangerous hockey team.”
Added defenceman Wade Redden: “(The Sabres) have lost some key guys. They’ve been up and down – they’ve had some good games that I’ve seen on TV, and they’ve lost some tight ones. They definitely miss Drury and Brière, but they’ve got a good young team. They’re going to be working, I’m sure, to get going again.”
Senators coach John Paddock compared the Sabres’ plight to his own team’s a year ago, when the Senators were still trying to adjust to life without departed defenceman Zdeno Chara, among others. The Senators, of course, turned the corner in a major way, and stormed all the way to the Stanley Cup final.
Paddock sees the Sabres in a similar light, saying they’ll be “a club that’s going to be reckoned with” before the season is done.
“They’re a very formidable team, for sure,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how far behind they are at the moment, it’s a four-point difference at the end of the night.
“Let’s try to put the heat on more so than ever.”
The Senators plan to do it by sticking with what’s been a winning hand. After toying with the idea of splitting up his top line earlier in the week, Paddock had Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson
back together in practice Wednesday. And that’s how they’ll line up against the Sabres.
“It’s the easiest thing for Jason to slide back into,” Paddock said in reference to Spezza’s six-game absence because of a groin injury. “The bigger question I asked myself was ‘why split up Heatley and Alfredsson?’ It’s just automatic to slide (Spezza) back in there.”
Spezza, of course, won’t be the one to disagree with that thought.
“We’ve had pretty good success together,” he said. “We can get right back to where we left off and continue to win games and continue to have success.”
And make no mistake about it. Much as the Sabres are desperate for wins, the Senators don’t exactly like the idea of helping the visitors’ cause.
“When you’re losing games, you’re never happy,” said Spezza. “Whether you’re a first-place team or a last-place team, losses all feel the same.”
Martin Gerber (11-1-0) will start in goal against the Sabres.