(SportsNetwork.com) - The Ottawa Senators enter the 2013-14 season with lofty expectations, and they'll do their best to get off to a good start when they visit the Buffalo Sabres for Friday's clash at First Niagara Center.
The Senators made the playoffs for the second straight spring in 2013 before losing in the second round to the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games. However, Paul MacLean's club was bounced out of the postseason with superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson playing at less than 100 percent, and a return to health for Ottawa's best player is key to the team's success in 2013-14.
Also on Ottawa's mind heading into this season is the loss of longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson, who signed with new Atlantic Division rival Detroit this summer. Alfredsson, who was the face of the franchise for well over a decade, will face his former team four times in the regular season, but he won't make his first trip to Ottawa until Dec. 1.
The Senators actually won't play any team on home ice until Oct. 17, as the club is starting this season on a six-game road trip. One of Ottawa's weaknesses last year was its inability to put forth consistent efforts on the road, where the Sens went 10-11-3 during the lockout-shortened season of 2013.
Although "Alfie" is no longer a member of the Sens, the club did react quickly by landing power forward Bobby Ryan from Anaheim on the same day their former captain made the decision to head across the border into Michigan. Ryan is a four-time 30-goal scorer at the ripe age of 26, and he'll likely offer more offensive production than the 41-year-old Alfredsson could at this stage of his career.
Ryan's offensive contributions aside, under MacLean the Senators still will be expected to play a cohesive defensive style in front of the steady goaltending of Craig Anderson. Anderson missed considerable time during the 2013 regular season, but is ready for the season opener on Friday.
The Sabres, also members of the new-look Atlantic Division, opened their season Wednesday night in Detroit and were handed a 2-1 regulation by the Red Wings. Mikael Samuelsson and Pavel Datsyuk tallied 36 seconds apart in the first period and Jimmy Howard turned away 19-of-20 shots to lift the Red Wings to a win in their first game as a member of both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.
It was the 12 time in the last 13 matchups that the Sabres lost at Joe Louis Arena.
Zemgus Girgensons scored his first career goal for Buffalo, which came up short on all seven of its power-play opportunities. Girgensons, drafted 14th overall in the 2012 draft, lit the lamp in the third period.
Ryan Miller was steady following the two early goals, stopping 32-of-34 shots in the narrow defeat.
"We were right there all night," Miller said. "We got in a position to tie. I think we were improving as the game went on."
The Sabres, who are rebuilding and not expected to make the postseason in 2013-14, lost forward Ville Leino to a cracked rib in the opener and he is out indefinitely. Leino signed a six-year, $27 million with Buffalo in the summer of 2011, but has battled injuries and inconsistency during his tenure with the Sabres.
After visiting the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, the Sabres will return home for a two-game stint in western New York.
Ottawa won three of four meetings against the Sabres last season, but the Sens have dropped four of their last seven tilts in Buffalo.