THE STORY: The Ottawa Senators are still in the neighbourhood of .500 despite losing some key players of late. Can they climb back into the playoff picture now that Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba are ready to return? Those two should help stabilize a defence corps that is suddenly without highly-touted, though unvarnished, rookie David Rundblad.
THE SUBPLOTS: Rundblad, of course, was dealt to the Phoenix Coyotes for young centre Kyle Turris on Saturday. The hope is a change of scenery will help Turris, who has underachieved in his first couple of seasons in the league, become the player everyone expected when he was chosen third overall in 2007. Of course, the ‘change of scenery’ argument was used for Nikita Filatov too, and we all know how that turned out.
THE WILDCARD: Craig Anderson, Senators. Let’s try this again. Anderson was my wildcard last game, before coach Paul MacLean surprised everyone by giving Alex Auld the start in net. Auld won, but MacLean confirmed Anderson will be back at it against the Sabres. As I said before, the team needs not just a better game, but a better season, out of Anderson, and they need it right now. The .894 save percentage just isn’t cutting it.
THE OPPONENT: Whatever injury problems the Senators have been battling, they pale in comparison to the devastation inflicted on the Sabres’ lineup this season. It has been a non-stop parade to the IR in Buffalo, and the team’s record reflects that. A team that was expected to challenge for the Northeast Division crown is only one point up on the middling Senators.
THE QUOTE: “It’s a real fun atmosphere. They’ve got a great mix of the older guys — Spezza and Alfredsson — and at the same time a real young group, so it was a fun practice this morning, guys joking around and lots of energy and I’m looking forward to jumping in.” — Turris, discussing his first day of work in Ottawa. He’ll play on a line with Nick Foligno and Erik Condra tonight.
THE SICK BAY: Senators — (LW) M. Michalek (concussion). Sabres — (LW) T. Ennis (ankle), (LW) V. Leino (lower-body), (LW) J. Hecht (lower-body), (C) N. Gerbe (concussion), (RW) P. Kaleta (lower-body), (RW) B. Boyes (knee), (D) T. Myers (wrist.
THE PREDICTION: There should be some shuffling and adjusting here, so I think I’ll give it another game before I consider the Senators again. They picked up a surprising win over the Pittsburgh Penguins last Friday, but have another decent opponent coming in. Only one point separates these two teams, which suggests we might be in for another close game. Senators 3, Sabres 4 (OT). (SEE WHO THE REST OF OUR PREDICTION PANEL LIKES IN THIS ONE).