THE STORY: Now that Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has revealed his coach and general manager aren’t going anywhere, will the players stop performing like they want someone to be fired? Ottawa has lost five straight games and is out of the playoff picture, meaning everyone will be skating for jobs ahead of February’s trade deadline. Perhaps that fear will result in a rare victory.
THE SUBPLOTS: The Senators’ focus has now shifted from winning with veterans to seeing what they have in the organization. Bobby Butler gets another shot tonight, but expect the team to roll several of their top prospects through the lineup over the coming weeks. Names like Colin Greening, Robin Lehner, Erik Condra and Jim O’Brien will start sounding very familiar in the capital.
THE WILDCARD: Brian Elliott, Senators. Elliott’s play will help determine how miserable the initial stages of the rebuilding process will be. If he is confident, he can single-handedly keep things respectable on the scoreboard. That confidence will radiate out to the rest of his teammates. If he continues to struggle as he has lately, however, this could get even uglier.
THE OPPONENT: Sabres netminder Ryan Miller has won eight of his last 12 starts, and as Miller goes, so go the Sabres. Buffalo currently sits 10th in the Eastern Conference, six points behind the slumping Atlanta Thrashers in eighth place. While it’s certainly an outside shot that Buffalo will mount a successful playoff drive, the team is close enough to dream.
THE QUOTE: “I don’t think we’re very far away from being a good hockey team. Obviously, you have to make some changes when you perform like we did, but I think it’s one year. I think we can be back as a real competitive team real quick. Young kids take a little bit of time to grow, but there are some guys who are going to step in and be pretty good players in the NHL right away.” — Senators general manager Bryan Murray on a rapid rebuild.
THE SICK BAY: Senators — G Pascal Leclaire (lower body, indefinite), C Jason Spezza (shoulder, indefinite), RW Alex Kovalev (knee, day-to-day). Sabres — RW Drew Stafford (groin questionable), C Derek Roy (quad, indefinite), RW Patrick Kaleta (hand, indefinite), Tim Connolly (hip, indefinite).
THE PREDICTION: I really felt like the Senators were going to break through and win their last outing against the Habs. I don’t think I could have been more wrong. Inexplicably, I’m going to pick them again. With the weight on uncertainty off of everyone’s shoulders, the players, coaches and manager can get back to focusing on hockey. Senators 3, Sabres 2.