New-look Senators ready to host Sabres
OTTAWA -- When the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference square off at Canadian Tire Centre on Thursday night, the hosts will have a new look.
Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion confirmed Wednesday that winger Marian Gaborik and center Nick Shore will be in the lineup when his team takes on the Buffalo Sabres 48 hours after they were obtained in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Dion Phaneuf and center Nate Thompson.
The Senators (19-27-9) saved money in moving the two contracts, but the amount depends on whether they buy Gaborik out in the summer. Dorion, however, refuses to admit that the team is in rebuild mode.
"We're going to be doing a lot of things to make sure that we can field as competitive a team as we can," Dorion said Wednesday. "We'd like to compete for the playoffs next year, but at the same time we want to have a team here that will be able to compete every year for the playoffs."
The Senators sit 15th in the conference, three points ahead of the cellar-dwelling Sabres (17-30-10) and with two games in hand. But the teams are currently going in directions that could see them switching places.
Ottawa is coming off a pair of 6-3 losses, the most recent of which was in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. They outshot the Penguins 33-28 but were plagued by familiar goaltending problems, this time when starter Mike Condon was chased after giving up four goals on nine shots.
The Sabres, meanwhile, have won three of their last four, including victories over the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, the top two teams in the conference.
In dumping the Lightning 5-3 on Tuesday, the Sabres showed a dedication to penalty killing and continued to build on a power play that has been among the league's best in the last four weeks -- even with the loss of star center Jack Eichel to an ankle injury.
Offensively, the Sabres are being led by center Ryan O'Reilly, who has 18 points in the last 16 games, and winger Sam Reinhart, who has 16 points in his last 13 games.
"Once a couple start going in for you, it's just the little things," Reinhart, who has 29 points on the season, told the Buffalo News. "You're hanging onto the puck a little more. Your feet are getting under you. It's just little things like that, that I'm finding early in the game that I'm able to build off of night in and night out."
The recent success was also attributed to a newfound team confidence, which shouldn't waver any with the Sabres facing the Senators.
Buffalo won four of the five games between the teams last season and the only one they've played so far in 2017-18, a 3-2 final on Dec. 12 south of the border.
While Craig Anderson is likely to get the start in goal for Ottawa, Robin Lehner is expected to work the pipes for the Sabres. A former Senators goalie, Lehner has a career record of 5-0-2 against his old team that includes a 1.39 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage.
Updated February 14, 2018