THE STORY: The Ottawa Senators are coming off two of their most depressing losses of the season: One against the Edmonton Oilers, who started their tear through the Northeast Division here, and one against the city’s greatest tormentor, Dany Heatley and his Sharks. If they’re going to turn things around, a game against Buffalo is a good place to start. The Sabres played Friday night and headed straight for the capital.
THE SUBPLOTS: How long do the Senators have to start winning consistently before owner Eugene Melnyk decides major changes are needed? Can Bryan Murray fire another coach and maintain any credibility? Can he shake things up by dealing players in a difficult cap world? One thing is certain: Fans have had enough. In our latest SenatorsExtra.com poll, 85 per cent of respondents said it’s time for a rebuild.
THE WILDCARD: Jason Spezza, Senators. Ottawa’s playmaking centre hasn’t been able to generate much with the puck lately and it’s one of the reasons the team is struggling. He has just one point — a goal — in his last eight games and is on pace for his lowest point total since his rookie season. Spezza does have 52 points in 40 career games against Buffalo, though.
THE OPPONENT: The Sabres might be tired after playing at home last night, but they should be inspired by a 5-0 victory. Like the Senators, the Sabres have been surprisingly bad this season and need to make a push now if they have any hope of making the playoffs. These two teams are currently tied for 10th in the conference, six points back of eighth-place Atlanta.
THE QUOTE: “It’s not that they don’t care, it’s not that they’re not trying. The easiest thing to do when a team is down is to kick them, and that’s not what we’re doing right now. We’re in this together and we have to make sure we understand that. Like I’ve said, we’ve had the really good starts. We just have to have the mental toughness to sustain that when things start to go a little bit south. Our confidence right now is not very good. We need a couple of things to go well for us.” — Coach Cory Clouston, trying to stay positive.
THE SICK BAY: Senators — No injuries. Sabres — C Tim Connolly (groin), C Rob Niedermayer (knee).
THE PREDICTION: Against my better judgment, I took the Senators to beat the Sharks last game. The thinking behind that was: ‘If there’s any game they’ll get up for this season, this is it.’ That theory went out the window pretty quickly, as the Senators continued their stretch of uninspired play with another loss. Had they shown an ounce of passion in the last 40 minutes of that game, I would have taken them here against a Buffalo squad they usually beat. Until they turn things around, however, I’ll go with the opposition. Senators 1, Sabres 4.