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The Atlantic Division has become one of the strongest in the NHL. With seven of the eight teams having playoff aspirations, it is a dogfight for the post-season tickets. The Senators are among the few teams who will be at the top of the list for the wildcard spots. Perhaps their closest competitor is the Buffalo Sabres. Both teams were very similar this season and both project to improve. In this article, I will be dissecting both rosters to determine who has the upper hand.
Comparing Sens/Sabres Forward Core
The Senators and Sabres are two teams that have elite-level first lines. The Sabres lineup with Jeff Skinner (82 points in 79 games) on the left wing, Tage Thompson (94 points in 78 games) at the centre, and Alex Tuch (79 points in 74 games) on the right wing. This line worked extremely well all season with each player scoring above a point per game. The trio is led by Tage Thompson who is one of the very best goal scorers in the NHL.
The Senators lineup with Brady Tkachuk (83 points in 82 games) on the left wing, Tim Stützle (90 points in 78 games) at centre, and Claude Giroux (79 points in 82 games) at the right wing. The production from the Senators’ first line is slightly less than that of the Sabres, although both are very close.
I think the biggest question mark going into next season regarding these first lines will be how effective Claude Giroux is coming into the season. Claude Giroux is the oldest of the players mentioned at 35, and the Senators will be relying on him to play at a high level once again next season. If Giroux can be close to matching the production from Jeff Skinner, the Sens will be in a good position.
Brady Tkachuk is comparable to Alex Tuch. Both are elite players, and the Senators will need Tkachuk to take the next step in his career to exceed the production of a player like Tuch. At 23 years old, Tkachuk is entering his prime and has the chance to exert a level of dominance unseen in his career so far. Tim Stützle and Tage Thompson are very similar in terms of their production. The Sens need another big season out of their 21-year-old to push themselves ahead of the Sabres.
Comparing Second Lines
The second lines for the Senators and Sabres are quite close in terms of projection. The Senators are likely to lineup with Dominik Kubalik (45 points in 81 games) on the left wing, Josh Norris at centre (*55 points in 66 games 2022/2023), and Drake Batherson (62 points in 82 games) at the right wing.
The Sabres line up with Casey Mittlestadt (59 points in 82 games) at left wing, Dylan Cozens (68 points in 81 games) at centre, and Victor Olofsson (40 points in 75 games) at right wing. There is a chance that a young player like JJ Peterka could take the top 6 spot, but for this article, I will follow how they lined up last season.
This is where I feel the Senators have a slight edge over the Sabres. Both second lines are very effective, but I have more faith in the Senators players to be more productive. The big X-factor in this is how Dominik Kubalik can handle his role in the top 6. If he can take another step and be a 50-point player, it would benefit Ottawa greatly. Both second lines are quite young and could take another step next year. We will have to see what version of these players we get.
In terms of the bottom 6, both teams are quite similar in their quality of players. Where the Sabres may have an advantage is the age of their bottom 6 players. Kyle Okposo is the lone 30+ year old projected on the roster, and players like Krebs, Peterka, Quinn, etc are poised to take steps forward. The Senators will need a bounce-back year from Mathieu Joseph, and a step forward for Shane Pinto to compete with the Sabres bottom 6.
Comparing Defence Cores
The Sabres and Senators both have young, promising top 4’s. The Senators group is highlighted by Thomas Chabot, Jakob Chychrun, Jake Sanderson, and Artem Zub. The Sabres are run by Rasmus Dahlin, Mattias Samuelsson, Owen Power, and Connor Clifton. This is under the assumption that the Sabres brought in Clifton to play on their second pair.
The Sanderson and Power debate can go either way. As a fan of the Senators, I feel like Sanderson has the edge although to rule out my bias I will list the players as a wash for each other. They are of a very similar calibre, and either guy could establish himself as the better defender.
Rasmus Dahlin is the clear-cut best defender of all the mentioned players. He is a Norris candidate and can provide offense at a level higher than the Senators’ defensemen. After Dahlin, the Senators have 2 players who are more effective than Samuelsson and Clifton with Chabot and Chychrun. Samuelsson is a very similar defender to Zub, so they as well I will consider a wash.
The big question on who’s top 4 is better lies in the question of which defenders have the bigger skill gap. In my opinion, I believe that there is a bigger gap between Chabot/Chychrun with Connor Clifton than there is with Chabot/Chychrun and Dahlin. For this reason, I would give the Senators’ top 4 the upper hand.
On the bottom pairing, I would also give the upper hand to the Senators. The bottom pairs will likely line up as Brannstrom/JBD versus one of Johnson/Jokiharju/Lyubushkin and Bryson. I believe that the combination of Brannstrom and JBD outclasses any of the combinations the Sabres put out.
The goaltending comparison is a very difficult one to make because both teams will be running with a new starter. The Sabres are expected to use Devon Levi as their starting goaltender this year while the Sens are expecting to use Korpisalo as their starter.
Devon Levi has 7 career games under his belt and while he has put up decent numbers (.905 SV% 2.94 GAA) it is a small sample size to base a season on. Korpisalo on the other hand has a large sample size to look at, although he is notoriously inconsistent. If the Sens get the Korpisalo of last season (.914 SV% 2.87 GAA), they likely have the edge over the Sabres.
At the backup position, the Senators have a big advantage. The Sabres will likely rely on one of Eric Comrie or UPL neither of whom are of the same calibre as Anton Forsberg.
Overall I believe that the fight between the Sabres and Senators will be a bloodbath next season. While I think the Senators have a stronger top 6, the Sabres have the better depth. On the blue line, both teams are quite similar. I do like the makeup of the Senators top 4 better, but having the best player (Rasmus Dahlin) helps the Sabres case.
The goaltending is a difficult comparison, but I do believe the Senators will be stronger in that regard. The performance of Devon Levi will be crucial in affecting which team will have the better season. If he can take the reigns early in his career, the Senators will be in a dangerous situation.
With all of this in mind, I do believe that the Senators have a very slight edge over the Buffalo Sabres. I think the success of both squads depends on the steps taken by both team’s young cores/prospects. Health is also a major contributor to which team will be better. An injury to a key player or players could ultimately decide which team performs best.
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