Senators, Sabres renew rivalry
The Ottawa Senators want to make one thing perfectly clear: they are not overlooking the Buffalo Sabres.
The Senators host the slumping Sabres — they've lost their last seven games — Thursday night, but are also preparing for a big showdown on home ice Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings (CBC, 6:30 p.m. ET).
Saturday's contest is the only meeting during the regular season between the Senators and Red Wings, the NHL's two conference leaders, and some are already billing it as a preview of the Stanley Cup finals.
But Ottawa still has some business to take care before tangling with the Red Wings — a date with the Sabres in a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference finals.
And even though the Sabres are struggling and trail the Senators by a whopping 16 points in the Northeast Division standings, Ottawa is not taking Buffalo lightly.
"Buffalo brings out the best in us," captain Daniel Alfredsson told the Senators' official website. "They play pressure hockey and you've got to be ready to play.
"We know it's a big game Saturday [against Detroit] but at the same time, this is a divisional game that we really want to win."
Senators coach John Paddock echoed his captain's sentiments.
"It's the Buffalo Sabres. We've had a lot of respect for them over the years," Paddock said. "I'm a bit surprised by their lack of success right now, but I think they're a real good team. It's easy to respect them because there's been a lot of games played with them that meant a lot in the last two or three years."
The clubs have built a rivalry after meeting in the playoffs the last two seasons. with Buffalo prevailing two years ago in the second round, and the Senators winning last season's Eastern Conference final in five games.
"They're an easy team to get up for," said Ottawa forward Dany Heatley, who has three goals and seven points in his last four games against Buffalo. "I like the challenge of shooting on Ryan Miller. He's a great goaltender."
While the Sabres have been slumping, the Senators have been surging, winning five of their last seven games, including a 4-3 overtime victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
Mike Fisher raced for the loose puck, deked Tampa Bay defenceman Brad Lukowich between the legs and squeezed a shot that beat goaltender Johan Holmqvist just inside the post.
"I just split their D along the boards and cut to the net and put it through his legs," Fisher said.
Fisher missed Ottawa's practice on Wednesday because of illness and is questionable for the Sabres game.