This is a big night, everybody! I know this is a Buffalo Bills blog, but our favorite team is a part of a blue-collar community that is absolutely ecstatic about another team right now: the Buffalo Sabres. The NHL's best hockey team is opening its Eastern Conference Semifinal series tonight (5/10, 7PM) with the Ottawa Senators; needless to say, HSBC Arena will be rocking. As Bills fans, it's time to turn our attention away from off-season analysis to support the Sabres during their playoff run!
A young man I attended high school with not so long ago, Pat Green, is a student at SUNY Oswego and has been essentially a life-long Sabres fan. He recently took up a blogging job at the newly established SabresNation.com, a very promising Sabres fan site built around the same community-building ideals that we hold here at Buffalo Rumblings. The site is new, so if you're a Sabres fan, head over to that site and become a regular contributor over there as well!
Pat has graciously allowed me to post snippets of his Sabres/Senators series preview here; his writing style is snarky, statistic-laden and is a great read for any Sabres fan. Check out his blog on a regular basis!
The Ottawa Senators (8-1-1) and the Buffalo Sabres (8-2-1) face off for the 22nd time since the beginning of the 2005-06 season. The Senators hold a 10-6 record in the regular season; but the Sabres own a 4-1 record against the Sens in play after April. Everyone, I'm sure, needs no reminder of J.P. Dumont, Chris Drury, and Jason Pominville's OT goals in last year's series.
But we're not dealing with the same monster this year. Oh no. These Senators steamrolled a young, fast Penguin lineup which boasted talents like Cindy Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and Colby Armstrong, as well as veteran leadership from Mark Recchi and the never aging Gary Roberts.
These Senators manhandled the league's most famous trap defense...as well as destroying one of the league's best checking lines led by Selke winner John Madden and this year's Selke nominee Jay Pandolfo.
These Senators are led by a new captain this year. Well, it's the same guy. But I'm almost convinced that aliens captured him and sent down a better clone of Daniel Alfredsson. The only way I can be sure it's still him is the telltale 70's porno mustache.
Anyways, these `chokers' have definitely not played like that this year.
Heatley (6), Spezza (5), and Alfredsson (5) have combines for 16 of their team's 33 goals. This line has been playing incredible hockey. They've been back-checking and throwing their bodies around...including Alfie.
These Senators are to be feared.
In order for Buffalo to beat this Ottawa lineup, they will have to pick up their game another notch. Our squad looked shaky in Round 1 against a bad team on a hot streak. In Round 2 they picked it up a little more and played great hockey in game 1 and part of game 2, played bad in games 3 and 4, but in games 5 and 6, they completely outclassed the Rangers.
They cannot afford any slip-ups against this Canadian rival. They will take every advantage we give them. Especially their power play. Taking penalties is the absolute last thing the Sabres want to do against a team which features Heatley and big shots from the blue line on the powerplay. Heatley is Ryan Miller's personal kryptonite and shots from the blue line are Miller's only real technical flaw.
Ottawa's defense, through the loss of Zdeno Chara, has increased multiple times over from last year. Anton Volchenkov, Wade Redden, Tom Preissing, and Chris Phillips are excellent defensive players and Volchenkov and Phillips both have cannon shots from the point that they do effectively use.
Ottawa's second and third lines are both legitimate NHL scoring lines, as well. Mike Comrie, Chris Kelly, Antoine Vermette, and Peter Schaefer lead these lines. Expect Patrick Eaves to return at the latest for game 3. These lines can be extremely dangerous if underestimated. Back-checking from all of Buffalo's lines will be crucial. Even Ottawa's fourth line (Chris Neil, Dean McAmmond, and Chriztoph Schubert) can score...but they also hit everything that moves.
Consider this an open thread for tonight's opening-round game. If any of you are able to watch, check in here - I'll be more than willing to chat with a few of you in the comments section as the action unfolds!