The Buffalo Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in their home opener of the 2013-2014 NHL season tonight 7 p.m. Buffalo looks to grab their first pair of points after dropping their only other match up in Hockeytown against the Red Wings.
The season opener was a dismal affair for the Sabres as they looked disorganized and overwhelmed Wednesday night in Detroit. They showed an overall lack of polish and most players did not appear to be on the same page as their line-mates.
Despite the Red Wings controlling the pace of the game, the Sabres held their resolve except for a roughly two minute gap of focus in the third period when their opposition scored both of their goals. While not allowing the score to get out of hand, Buffalo’s inability to find the back of the net was a marked problem especially on the powerplay, which was anemic and came up empty handed on two 5-3 opportunities.
Buffalo needs to capture the home crowd energy and turn it into two points. Last season the Sabres struggled to find an advantage on home ice. By the end of the year their lackluster play had the crowd dull and disinterested and they failed to capture the momentum of the hometown crowd. At the start of this year they can build momentum on the ice and in the seats.
Across the ice from the Sabres are their divisional opponents the Ottawa Senators who have not yet played this season and finished ahead of the Sabres last year. With the NHL realignment, wins in the division are even more important than in years past because of the new playoff format.
The keys to victory are simple for Buffalo. First they must clean up their play in all zones. In the defensive zone they were sloppy and gave the puck up in costly ways, in the neutral zone their passes were inaccurate and resulted in more giveaways and offsides. Finally, they were not clean in the offensive zone and relatively ineffective with their attempts to sustain pressure.
Physical play also needs to step up, the Sabres look to set the tempo and play the Senators hard down low. Buffalo needs to get an early jump and capitalize on the crowd’s energy and on their opportunities. This means that the powerplay must improve upon their previous lamentable performance. The penalty kill on the flipside was a bright spot in the season opener, and they were very active pressuring the puck.
All eyes are on the Sabres youngsters this year, but tested players like Vanek, Stafford, Ott, and Ehrhoff need to set the standard and stand out in the midst of the rookies. Johan Larsson fills in for the injured Ville Leino but other than that the line-up remains unchanged.
The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be aired on MSG.