Ottawa Senators at Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 8, 2010

The Ottawa Senators open the season with high expectations in the capital and middling expectations elsewhere.

Ottawa Senators at Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 8, 2010
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13: Jason Spezza #19 of the Ottawa Senators handles the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Senators defeated the Penguins 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

THE STORY: The Ottawa Senators open the season with high expectations in the capital and middling expectations elsewhere. The addition of Sergei Gonchar over the summer gave the team a major upgrade on the power play (where it struggled for much of last season), while youngster Erik Karlsson showed flashes of brilliance as the schedule wound down. Is it enough to compensate for the loss of Anton Volchenkov, whose shot-blocking talents eased the pressure on Ottawa’s goaltenders? Do Daniel Alfredsson and Alexei Kovalev still have the legs to play major roles in the top-six? Will Jason Spezza finally step up and become the team’s best player?

THE SUBPLOTS: The biggest question of all is between the pipes. While the Senators appear to have a Northeast Division contender on paper, slow starts by Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott would quickly throw a wrench in the works. Neither netminder performed well in preseason play, leading to copious buzz that super-prospect Robin Lehner could see time in the Ottawa crease before long. Leclaire will likely be No. 1 when the season gets underway, but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether he’ll hold the title when the playoffs start about six months from now.

THE WILDCARD: Spezza. He “tweaked” his groin in the days leading up to this game and that’s a little worrisome, given some of the nagging injuries he’s fought through in previous years. When he’s at full health, he can take over a game. When he isn’t…not so much. If he does make it into the lineup, he might not be at full speed.

THE OPPONENT: The Buffalo Sabres will be one of the teams in the mix for the Northeast crown along with the Senators and Boston Bruins this season, making these divisional games all the more important. While dominant goaltender Ryan Miller gets most of the press, keep an eye on super sophomore Tyler Myers on defence. He’s a potential Norris Trophy candidate — and he’s 20 years old.

THE QUOTE: “We got a taste of it in training camp, a feel for how guys play. It’s about communication and talking your way through it. What you like to do in certain situations and seeing what the other guy does…and feeding off of that. It’s a bit of a learning curve, but not drastic and not something you’re going to use as a crutch.” — Senators defenceman Chris Phillips on the Senators’ new-look defence pairs.

THE USELESS (BUT KINDA COOL) FACTOID: The 6-foot-7 Myers starred for Canada at the World Junior Championships and could represent the county as an Olympian in the future, but he was actually born in Houston, Texas. His family moved to Calgary when he was 10 years old and he’s now a dual citizen.

THE SICK BAY: Senators — C Mike Fisher (neck, probable), D Filip Kuba (broken leg, three weeks), C Jason Spezza (undisclosed, day-to-day). Sabres — RW Patrick Kaleta (neck, questionable), G Patrick Lalime (goring, probable), D Craig Rivet (broken blood vessel, probable), LW Thomas Vanek (head, probable).

THE PREDICTION: The Ottawa Senatora have a robust history of taming Buffalo and I think that’ll continue Friday night. Expectations are high in the capital this season and Pascal Leclaire, who rode his decent playoff showing last spring along the inside track to No. 1 this season, will be motivated to meet them. Will he? As usual, Ottawa goaltenders are wearing teflon gloves when it comes to holding the top spot. We’ll see.

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