Ten For Sens Equals Doubt For Sabres

It’s only fitting that the red hot Ottawa Senators earned
their franchise record 10th straight win at the expense of the
Buffalo Sabres, considering how one-sided this matchup has been over the past
few years.

Once again it was the Alfie and Spezza Show, and in this case it looked like a rerun.

Senators forward Jason Spezza now has 50 points in 38 career
games against Buffalo.  Fellow
SabreCrusher Daniel Alfredsson started slowly but had a whale of a finish with
two goals in the final minute of a 4-2 Ottawa victory at HSBC Arena last night.

It was just a regular season game in February, but the hype
and buildup was justified, as there were some major implications. 

For starters, any plans coach Lindy Ruff may have had to
rest Vezina frontrunner Ryan Miller a few extra games have been put on
hold.  Losing the division title would
likely mean an unenviable first round date against either Pittsburgh or New
Jersey
.

But what should be of bigger concern to Sabres fans isn’t
exactly a new question:  When in a tight
playoff series having to fight for every inch of ice and getting figuratively
punched in the face, how will they respond? 
Don’t underestimate the importance of this just because of their skill
level.  It’s not 2005-06 anymore; even
with Miller, being an above average finesse team with little grit and jam isn’t
going to be enough.

In a related story, Sabres veterans have apparently
instituted a new rookie initiation program. 
When Senators physical and ornery defenseman Chris Phillips took
advantage of an opportunity to run Miller into the ice, it was the new guy -
none other than Calder Trophy candidate Tyler Myers – who had to respond and defend
his goaltender.  Hey, at least it’s
cheaper than dinner for twenty.

Buffalo’s tolerance of Miller getting knocked around
continues to be an unpleasant trend. 
Last night it was Phillips. 
Earlier this season it was New Jersey Devils forward Jamie
Langenbrunner.  Last season, courtesy of
then-Ranger forward Scott Gomez – accident or not – it cost the Sabres a ticket
to the playoffs.

It seems inconceivable that fans and media here actually get
angrier about these incidents than Miller’s own teammates, the guys with whom
he goes to battle.  Strangely enough,
though, that’s always how it seems.

In essence, though, this really gets to the heart of why,
even with superior goaltending, the Sabres have such a hard time against the
Senators.  They just don’t match up well
against them.  When it comes to top
skill players who can find open ice and score big goals when they are
absolutely needed, the Sabres don’t have the horses that Ottawa does. 

And when you aren’t willing to get into the face of a
superior skill player and make life difficult for him, the end result looks a
lot like what happened last night.  Ask
Alfredsson and Spezza about the 2006-07 playoffs and what it was like to be
freewheeling around HSBC Arena ice, and have them compare that to what they had
to deal with the following week when battling the Anaheim Ducks.

Not coincidentally, the Sabres aren’t the only good team
subject to such torment lately.  Make no
mistake – this is a talented Ottawa team with a bright young coach.  During this winning streak the Senators have
beaten the Blackhawks, Devils and Penguins by a combined score of 11-2. 

In an effort to keep up with the Joneses, you have to
believe that some tweaking of the lineup may be in order.  Columbus forward Raffi Torres has 16 goals
and could challenge his career season high of 27.  His numbers would make him the second leading goal scorer
for Buffalo, and it wouldn’t take a whole lot to get him. 

Torres plays on the left side, which would be an upgrade
from rookie Tim Kennedy, who only played nine minutes last night but still managed
to end up as a –3, including being on the ice in the final minute for the game
winning goal.  (Why he and fourth liner
Adam Mair would be out there against Spezza and Alfredsson in that spot is the
subject of another conversation.)

Theoretically, of course, Buffalo could lose their remaining
games to Ottawa and still march through the playoffs without ever having to
face them.  At this point, the Senators
star forwards have gotten so into the heads of the Sabres, it may be the only
way.

Follow me on twitter: @DaveDavisHockey

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