After one of the craziest offseasons in Ottawa Senators’ history, the games are finally about to begin. On Thursday night, the Senators will open their season against the rebuilding Buffalo Sabres.
These two teams are coming off of incredibly similar 2021-22 seasons. The Senators finished with a 33-42-7 record, while the Sabres improved to 32-39-11. While the Senators have higher expectations, this should be a big season for the Sabres’ development program, with plenty of young players needing to take a big step to turn the franchise around.
Plenty of Newcomers Making Their Senators Debut
New players were able to establish a portion of chemistry in the preseason, but this will be a good chance to build off of that. Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux dominated the preseason, combining for 12 points in four games. Cam Talbot was brought in via trade from the Minnesota Wild but is expected to miss the first few weeks due to an upper-body injury.
Tyler Motte is another name added via free agency, but Jake Sanderson and Shane Pinto are two former draft picks that should make a big impact for the Senators this season. Pinto put up eight points over six games in the preseason, and Sanderson looked more comfortable with every game.
Buffalo Sabres Outlook
The Sabres still have plenty of work to do in their rebuild. They made a huge trade last season, sending Jack Eichel to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, and future first and second-round picks. According to CapFriendly, they are the youngest team in the NHL, with an average age of 25. They re-signed Tage Thompson to a monster extension after a breakout season and brought back defenceman Mattias Samuelsson with a seven-year deal.
They are beginning to put the pieces together on their rebuild. In comparison to the Senators, who took their leap this offseason, the Sabres are still one or two seasons away from making any big splashes to pair with their young core. For the 2022-23 season, goaltending projects to be their biggest weakness. They signed Eric Comrie to a two-year contract, and 41-year-old Craig Anderson has one-year remaining on his deal. Comrie was able to put up a .920 save percentage in 19 games last season, but it remains to be seen what he can do as a starter in the NHL.
Players to Watch
Buffalo Sabres: Owen Power
The 19-year-old, 6-foot-6 defender is poised to take on a top-four role with the Sabres this season. Power is expected to be on a pairing with Henri Jokiharju and shoulder big minutes on a struggling blue line. He found his way into eight games for the team last season and was able to score two goals and an assist while getting acclimated to the NHL.
The former first-overall pick has unlimited potential. Power’s rare combination of size, hands, and speed make him the player to watch on the Sabres. This will be his first full season getting used to the speed of the NHL, and it will be another two years before the Sabres will have to worry about a new contract.
Ottawa Senators: Jake Sanderson
Senators fans were holding their breath this preseason in hopes that Sanderson would make the team, and he was able to accomplish that and more. It projects as though he will immediately play a top-four role, similar to the role that Power will play on the Sabres.
Travis Hamonic will open the season as his partner, and Sanderson is expected to shoulder power play minutes as well. He looked comfortable in the preseason quarterbacking the unit consisting of Debrincat, Giroux, and Pinto. This game will be the former fifth-overall pick’s NHL debut, as he spent the last two seasons with the University of North Dakota.
Senators Lineup Notes
- Artem Zub tweaked an injury in practice on Monday but should play on the top pairing alongside Thomas Chabot
- In the second to last preseason game, head coach DJ Smith flipped his top-six centres in an attempt to find chemistry. Look for Tim Stützle to be alongside Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson on the top line.
- Nikita Zaitsev is expected to be a healthy scratch on defence, with Nick Holden projected to fill in on the third-pairing.
- Tkachuk – Stützle – Batherson
- DeBrincat – Norris – Giroux
- Motte – Pinto – Joseph
- Kelly – Kastelic – Watson
- Chabot – Zub
- Sanderson – Hamonic
- Brannstrom – Holden