Sabres vs. Senators
Ottawa, Canada - The Buffalo Sabres feel that reigning Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller is the key to their Stanley Cup hopes. The Ottawa Senators are still waiting to see who will take over for them in net.
Coming off first-round playoff exits in 2009-10, the Sabres and Senators renew their Northeast Division rivalry in the season opener for each team Friday night.
Oddsmakers from online sports book BroburySports.com have made the Senators –140 money line favorites for Thursday's game against the Sabres. Current MLB Public Betting Information shows that 57% of more than 617 bets for this game have been placed on the Senators -140.
Despite winning a franchise-record 41 games, posting a career-best 2.22 goals-against average, earning MVP honors of the Winter Games hockey tournament and becoming the first Sabre since Dominik Hasek in 2001 to win the Vezina, Miller failed to lead the division-winning Sabres out of the first round.
A series loss to sixth-seeded Boston ended a season that saw the Sabres win their first division crown since 2006-07.
"We came up short, so you evaluate," Miller said. "And what I found was a lot of things I liked about last year. I had a lot of fun playing. And I'm going to try to continue moving things forward."
Beginning his 13th season as Sabres coach, Lindy Ruff feels that with Miller in net and with the club's offseason moves - most notably, the signing of veteran center Rob Niedermayer - Buffalo can make a major postseason push.
"Our goal here as a team is to win the Stanley Cup. We might as well talk about that," Ruff said. "And I don't think we're that far away."
Ottawa could also be in for a long season, but for the wrong reason, if Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott can't improve following a rough preseason. Leclaire went 1-2-0 with a 4.43 GAA, while Elliott was 1-1-1 with a 3.24 GAA.
"Both of them will be fine," general manager Bryan Murray told the Senators' official website. "... We know their capability. There are a few guys on our team that didn't have great camps and it's not just goaltending."
The Senators also dealt with some notable preseason injuries, including defenseman Filip Kuba breaking his right leg on the first day of training camp and first-line center Jason Spezza suffering a groin injury Wednesday. According to coach Cory Clouston, Spezza is a game-time decision.
If Spezza takes the ice, it could be a mixed reaction by a home crowd that booed him as the 2009-10 season ended with a 4-3 overtime loss to Pittsburgh in Game 6 of the quarterfinals.
"I was upset at losing, I was upset at the response I got. I see it in the newspapers every year," Spezza told the NHL's official website, referring to claims he demanded a trade from Murray. "They talk about me, and I said, 'If you want to move me you can move me - if you think it's best for the team.'"
Even without Spezza, who missed 20 games last season with a torn ligament in his right knee and finished with his fewest points (57) since 2003-04, the Senators are confident they can still find the back of the net.
Daniel Alfredsson is healthy following offseason hernia surgery, Milan Michalek is back after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the playoff opener, and Mike Fisher (team-high 25 goals), Nick Foligno, Alex Kovalev and Peter Regin could provide plenty of scoring punch.
"(Spezza) is a big part of our team and we can't wait for him to come back, but we'll be fine in the meantime," said Alfredsson, who led the Senators with 51 assists and 71 points last season.
More production from forwards Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford could help ease Ruff's concerns about his team's offense. After averaging 39.7 goals in his previous three seasons, Vanek scored a team-high 28 in 2009-10. Four of those came in a 5-2 victory at Scotiabank Place on April 10 when the Sabres snapped a nine-game losing streak to Ottawa.
While Vanek is questionable for the opener after suffering a neck injury last Thursday, Stafford is ready to go after scoring 14 goals last season - six fewer than the previous year.
"He came into camp in great shape and he looks great out there," center Derek Roy, who led the Sabres with 69 points last season, told the team's official website.
Defensively, the Sabres - who were fourth in the NHL with 207 goals allowed last season - will lean heavily on reigning rookie of the year Tyler Myers as they try to incorporate new defensemen Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrisonn.Ottawa also added a new defenseman by signing Sergei Gonchar to a three-year, $16.5 million contract. Gonchar had 11 goals and 50 points last season with the Penguins and should help bolster the Senators' power play, which was 21st in the league in 2009-10 at 16.9 percent.