With the reformatting of the divisional format in the NHL, you might be left with questions about the team’s in Buffalo’s division, the Atlantic Division. Who will the Sabres be seeing a lot of? Where will they shake out?
Thankfully for you, that’s where I come in. Welcome to your guide to the division.
Detroit Red Wings
What did they do last year?
Last year was the first the Red Wings would face without legendary stalwart Nicklas Lidstrom leading them and the team looked high and low for someone who might be able to fill that role.
Niklas Kronwall took on a leadership role as an alternate and did his best on the ice to fill in but the key to Detroit’s success last year – they finished third in the Central Division behind the St.Louis Blues and eventual Cup champion Chicago Blackhaws while making the playoffs as the seventh seed – could be attributed to goaltender Jimmy Howard.
The 29-year-old goaltender won 21 games, turning in a dazzling 2.13 GAA and .923 save percentage while leading the league in shutouts, establishing himself as one of the better goaltenders in the game along the way.
Offensively, the Wings were once again led by the dynamic duo of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk had arguably his finest season in a few years, finishing 10th in the league in scoring with 49 points, including a team-leading 15 goals, in 47 games for the Wings. Zetty was right behind him with 48 points and a team-leading 37 assists.
In the postseason, the Wings, who many thought were past their glory days, refused to go out without a massive fight. They took out the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks in seven games in the quarterfinals and nearly took out the Blackhawks before bowing out in seven games to the eventual champs.
What do they look like for this year?
For the most part, the Wings look the same if only a year older. They did make a bit of a splash by acquiring Stephen Weiss, signing him to a five-year, $24.5M deal in the off-season. Since Gordie Howe’s #9 is retired, he’ll be wearing #90.
The other splash they made? Oh, they only pried Daniel Alfredsson away from the only home he’s ever known in Ottawa. He should be a nice addition to the Wings in terms of veteran leadership and scoring. Whether the Wings will be able to get Alfredsson the Cup he’s been looking for remains to be seen.
The Wings remain largely the same on the back end with the addition of college star Danny Dekeyser being the big addition. A dozen other teams were hot after the Western Michigan star but promises of big minutes brought him to the Motor City. He’s a strong puck-mover and will get all the opportunity he seeks this year after having his year shortened by injury last year.
Howard returns in net and will give the Wings a chance to compete every night. He emerged as a star last year and carried the Wings for stretches; look for him to pick up where he left off, though it may be tough to match those sterling numbers of last year considering the season will be longer this year.
2013/14 Meetings w/Buffalo
10/2 @ Detroit
11/24 @ Buffalo
4/4 @ Detroit
4/8 @ Buffalo
Where do the Sabres stand?
With the shortened schedule last year, the Eastern and Western Conferences did not meet so there are no direct matchups to drawn upon from last year between the two clubs. With realignment, the two will obviously see more of each other as the Wings move back to East after two-plus decades.
For the Sabres, cracking Howard will obviously be the key as he’s emerged as an elite-level goaltender for the Wings. He’s also got a lot of size in front of him with Niklas Kronwall being the shortest defender at 6’0” (and also the biggest hitter), so using their speed to get around the edges and make things happen in front of Howard will be the key.
Defensively, the Sabres will be facing a skilled, smart, veteran group who is likely going to get their chances regardless of what the opposing team is doing because they are good at what they do and have been for some time. Datsyuk is Datsyuk. Zetterberg is Zetterberg. You’ll never shut them down, you can really only hope to limit the damage.
It’ll be interesting to see these two play as it injects fresh blood and gives the Atlantic a brand new-feeling matchup.
Follow me on Twitter: @RWTFC
A long-time (and long-suffering) Buffalo sports fan. Sometimes optimistic, always weary. I write other stuff for a lot of other people.