Although their long-time leader is now playing elsewhere, the Ottawa Senators are poised to sustain the success they've achieved the past two seasons.
Ottawa recorded 92 points to reach the playoffs in 2011-12 and went 25-17-6 in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, overcoming injuries to Jason Spezza, 2012 Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson and goalie Craig Anderson to again make the playoffs. It went on to upset second-seeded Montreal in the first round.
"We probably surprised a few people last year with our injuries and being able to finish the way that we did," forward Zack Smith told the Senators' official website. "I think this year there are a lot more expectations from different people, but if we're a healthy club it's going to be exciting to see what we can actually do."
It's who is not in Ottawa, however, that drew some of the biggest offseason headlines throughout the league.
After 17 seasons with the team, Alfredsson put off retirement and signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal with Detroit. The 40-year-old is the franchise's all-time leader in games, goals, assists and points, but he scored 10 in 47 contests for a team that ranked 27th with 112 goals during 2013.
The Senators are clearly focused on moving on, with coach Paul MacLean responding to a question about Alfredsson at Wednesday's press conference by skirting the issue.
Asked if he was curious about the Red Wings' opener against Buffalo that night, MacLean told the team's official website, "We'll watch it because they're playing Buffalo, yeah. It's been three years since I was (a Detroit assistant coach), they've changed so much."
The Senators moved to upgrade their offense in the offseason by acquiring Bobby Ryan from Anaheim in a deal that sent talented young forward Jakob Silfverberg west. Ryan scored at least 31 goals in each of the four seasons prior to 2013, when he had 11 in 46 games.
"He shoots the puck in the net and that's something we haven't had here since I've been here," MacLean said. "Having someone with that ability certainly should help our confidence as a team as far as it comes to scoring goals."
A healthy Spezza should also help.
The recently named captain matched a career high with 34 goals in 2011-12, but back problems limited him to two and four assists in eight regular season and playoff games in 2013.
Ryan, Spezza and Karlsson hope to mesh well with young forwards Cory Conacher and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who combined for seven playoff goals last season.
"I don't think we'll be 27th (in scoring)," general manager Bryan Murray said of this season. "But you never know. But I think we've got enough offense."
Ottawa's offensive deficiencies in 2013 were largely offset by its conference-best 2.08 goals-against average. Anderson went 12-9-2 with a 1.69 GAA despite missing 18 games due to an ankle injury, while backup Robin Lehner had a 2.20 GAA in 12 starts.
Ottawa won the first three meetings with the Sabres last season before losing 4-2 at Buffalo on April 5.
The Sabres look to bounce back from their 2-1 loss at Detroit on Wednesday. Zemgus Girgensons scored in his NHL debut, but Buffalo went 0 for 7 on the power play and failed to convert on a pair of two-man advantages.
The Sabres ranked 29th on the power play last season at 14.1 percent.
"(The veterans) know that we're going to have to lead the team, especially the power-play guys," co-captain Steve Ott told the Sabres' official website. "In low-scoring games, in a 2-1 game, those are the ones that win you games."
The 19-year-old Girgensons was one of three teenagers in the Sabres' lineup.
Buffalo's Thomas Vanek had a team-high 20 goals and 21 assists in 38 games last season, but he's been held to two assists in his last eight games against the Senators.
Karlsson has six goals and four assists in his last nine versus Buffalo.
Sabres forward Ville Leino is out indefinitely due to a broken rib suffered against the Red Wings. Leino played in eight games last season because of a hip injury.
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