Sens hit the ground skating
Back-to-back games against divisional opponents a good way to get started, players say
BUFFALO — In the immortal words of Ernie Banks, “let’s play two.”
Banks, of course, was a ballplayer, not a hockey guy. And he was talking about a doubleheader, not back-to-back hockey games. But for the Ottawa Senators, games against the Sabres Friday and Maple Leafs on Saturday will feel like a regional doubleheader.
After waiting around all week to play their first game of 2013-14, the Senators might as well take the plunge against two division rivals.
“It gets us right into it, which is what we want,” said head coach Paul MacLean. “You don’t want to be tiptoeing around, testing the waters.”
As the NHL’s youngest team, the Sabres are not expected to contend this season, but as the Detroit Red Wings discovered in a 2-1 win, Buffalo can be problematic.
“Young teams are dangerous,” says Senators captain Jason Spezza. “Young teams are hungry — throughout the lineup they have guys that are going to work. And it’s their home opener. You know those guys are gonna be pumped up.
The Senators’ Hockey Night In Canada game on Saturday in Toronto is also a home opener. The Leafs won back-to-back road games against the Canadiens and Flyers.
SPEZZA’S KIND OF RINK
On paper, Spezza has a friendly building and opponent to begin his reign as Senators captain.
With 62 points in 49 career games with Buffalo, Spezza has more points against the Sabres than any other NHL club.
No, he’s not sure why.
“My parents drive there and they get mad at me if I don’t play well?” Spezza laughs.
“Sometimes you get a good feeling in a rink,” he adds. “I’ve had some good games, we’ve had some good historic battles, with playoffs and stuff over the years. It helps the emotion a bit I’m sure.”
Like the rest of us, Spezza remembers some high-scoring games against the Sabres in the post-Hasek era, including nights when the Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson-Dany Heatley line was in its prime.
This time around, Spezza will be trying to ignite a trio that sees him in between Bobby Ryan and Milan Michalek. They will be looking to settle into a rhythm on the road, as the Senators don’t open at home until Oct. 17.
According to the captain, the trio will be spending extra time in the video room as they look to find quick “chemistry” in five-on-five play and on the power play.
“How quickly we gel as a line will impact how we do as a team in these six games,” Spezza said of a trip that includes stops in L.A., San Jose, Anaheim and Phoenix.
ANDY FOR GAME 1
As expected, Craig Anderson starts in Buffalo. He may or may not go back-to-back.
“I’m going to wait till Saturday to make that final determination,” MacLean said. “We’re considering both right now. The No. 1 goaltender historically plays 70 games, but Robin has to play at some point in time.”
USA VS. USA
Anderson will be staring down one of his competitors for a Team USA goaltending spot in Sochi, but says he won’t be thinking about facing Ryan Miller in the Buffalo goal. There’s no added motivation because Miller is the opponent, says Anderson.
“The object is to win the game and obviously you’ve got to play well to win. If that’s the result usually you’re doing stuff right.”
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