Sabres, Senators focused on finishing strong
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Fans of the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres could be pulled in different directions Thursday night when the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference get together at the Canadian Tire Centre.
The Senators (23-32-10) are 15th in the Eastern Conference and sit three points ahead of the last-place Sabres (21-35-11).
With both teams sporting poor records, fans of each team could be rooting for their team to lose with the hope of finishing behind the other at the end of the season, increasing their chances of winning the NHL draft lottery and getting the first pick in the draft.
The Sabres, who lost 5-1 at home to the Calgary Flames on Wednesday for the first time since March 15, 1996, are tied with the Arizona Coyotes for the fewest points in the NHL.
Former Senators goaltender Robin Lehner is 5-0-3 against his old team with a .950 save percentage and a 1.57 goals-against average. He is expected to get the start.
Lehner replaced Sabres starter Chad Johnson on Wednesday at 13:59 of the second period after the Flames made it 4-0.
Sabres coach Phil Housley said he wasn't happy with the way his team let the Flames get to the net on Wednesday night. The game was a letdown for the Sabres, who had won three of four games heading into their game against the Flames, including wins over the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs, all playoff teams in the Atlantic Division.
"That's a good phrase for it, standing around watching," Housley told the Buffalo News, describing his players' performance against the Flames.
"That wasn't what we wanted. That was disappointing. We have a lot better than that," Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly told the Buffalo News after the game.
Craig Anderson, who helped the Senators to a 3-2 overtime win against the Dallas Stars on the road Monday with 31 saves, will start for the Senators against the Sabres.
Senators coach Guy Boucher said he is always concerned about how his team plays in the first game at home after a road trip. The Senators are coming off a week-long road trip to Washington, Las Vegas, Arizona and Dallas during which they went 2-2-0.
"It doesn't matter who it is the first game after a road trip," he said. "It's always tough. We approach the game the same way. Whether it's Buffalo or anybody else, they've won some big games lately, against Toronto the other day, so they are also playing better. We need to be ready no matter who it is (Thursday). The fight is the first game back after a road trip, it's reality."
Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki said games between two teams this low in the standings at this time of year can sometimes deliver some good hockey.
"This time of year, when you get teams that are, for all intents and purposes, kind of eliminated, they tend to play a little bit looser," Borowiecki said. "Sometimes that can translate into good hockey. You're kind of missing that mental pressure, that emotional pressure. It can make a difference sometimes."
Updated March 8, 2018