Ending on a Positive Note at Home
The Buffalo Sabres take on the Ottawa Senators in home finale
My friends, as sports fans in general and particularly as Buffalo Sabres fans, we have signed an unwritten contract stating that we have allowed our hearts to be held hostage to a rollercoaster of emotions. This preview got that much more difficult to write after the Sabres were eliminated from playoff contention on Tuesday night with two games left to play in the season.
Buffalo Sabres (40-33-7) vs. Ottawa Senators (39-35-7)
Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EST | KeyBank Center | Buffalo, NY
TV: MSG, ESPN+
Know Your Opponent
Last Game: 3-2 win against Carolina
Division Ranking: 6th in the Atlantic Division
PP: 23.4% (9th)
PK: 80.1% (14th)
What To Watch For
1) What motivation for tonight's game?
"Play all the kids" you want to yell, until you remember that 12 of the 19 players that played basically a Game 7 on Tuesday night are 25 or under. Yes that's how young the Sabres are.
Though there is nothing quite like playing in the playoffs to get that playoff experience, this closing stretch has certainly been an education for this roster. There'll be plenty of time to analyze the season and see where it all started to come apart, but the 7-2-1 run they went on in their last ten games is the fifth-best record in the league for that period and in itself has been a good learning for the Sabres as they prepare for next season.
I fully expect the Sabres to go out tonight and play the same brand of attacking hockey they have all season long, particularly because it's the home season finale, which brings us to...
2) Finishing strong at home on fan appreciation night
The beloved Goathead jerseys are going to get another showing today and based on how well they've been received and also how often Buffalo have hit opponents for six wearing them, they've automatically any debates about if they should be worn next season or not.
When the Sabres do look back at the season, one of the sore points that will rankle will be their home record. Some indifferent performances earlier in the season especially in games against beatable opponents can be blamed for finishing out of the playoff spots. Buffalo currently has the 28th best home record, and will be looking to close out the home part of the schedule with a win at the very least.
Also, it looks like Craig Anderson will be in net and there's a possibility he will be retiring after his twentieth (!!) season, and that too against his former team the Senators. What an unexpected bonus he has been for this team and as a mentor his experience has been invaluable for the kids we've had playing goalie.
3) Choosing faith and optimism
There are a few Sabres fans who are angry that General Manager Kevyn Adams did not make more moves to reinforce the team for the end of the season. Some are pretty livid with Head Coach Don Granato's coaching methods and line-juggling. Others have decided that the Sabres just missing out on the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season means it's the same old same old and therefore nothing will ever change with the franchise.
I am choosing to believe in what I'm seeing. And what I'm seeing is Adams and Granato working in tandem, identifying players that want to be in Buffalo, are showing a requisite hunger to play a certain way, and most importantly, are somewhat receptive to coaching.
I believe that with the right tweaks this offseason, Buffalo can not only play an enjoyable brand of hockey next season, but also taste success and make the playoffs as well. That's what I'm taking away from this season.
Jeff Skinner – Casey Mittelstadt – Alex Tuch
Jordan Greenway – Dylan Cozens – Tage Thompson
JJ Peterka – Tyson Jost – Jack Quinn
Zemgus Girgensons – Peyton Krebs – Kyle Okposo
Rasmus Dahlin - Mattias Samuelsson
Owen Power – Henri Jokiharju
Riley Stillman – Ilya lyubushkin
Goaltenders: Craig Anderson (likely), Devon Levi, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Eric Comrie
Brady Tkachuk - Tim Stützle - Claude Giroux
Alex DeBrincat - Shane Pinto - Drake Batherson
Mathieu Joseph - Mark Kastelic - Patrick Brown
Egor Sokolov - Dylan Gambrell - Julien Gauthier
Jake Sanderson - Artem Zub
Erik Brannstrom - Nick Holden
Tyler Kleven - Jacob Bernard-Docker
Goaltenders: Mads Sogaard, Cam Talbot
Injuries: Josh Norris, Anton Forsberg, Thomas Chabot, Parker Kelly, Jakob Chychrun, Travis Hamonic, Derick Brassard, Austin Watson.