Senators face Sabres without injured captain
SENATORS (18-15-4) at SABRES (22-11-3)
– Ottawa 5-5-0; Buffalo 6-3-1.
– It's the third meeting of the season between the Northeast Division rivals, but the first visit by the Senators to HSBC Arena. Ottawa has won twice at home – 5-3 on Nov. 21 and 2-0 on Dec. 16 – a game in which several Sabres were plagued by a case of food poisoning.
– It was not a happy Christmas break for either team. The Senators were blasted 8-2 in Pittsburgh, allowing seven goals in the final two periods. Buffalo was flat as a holiday cookie in the first period at Washington, allowing the Caps to grab a 2-0 lead, then took two bad penalties and gave up 5-on-3 and 5-on-4 goals to go home with a 5-2 loss.
– The Senators came out firing in Pittsburgh, outshooting the Penguins 24-9 in the opening period and getting 47 shots on goal for the game. But it was the defensive coverage that was the real problem. Coach Cory Clouston absolved goaltender Pascal Leclaire
, who was making his return from a fractured cheekbone, of blame for the team's collapse.
"You can't blame (Leclaire) for the situation we were in going into the third period," he said. "I thought we had four or five unbelievable chances in the first period, we didn't score on them and it just seemed to snowball from there. We collapsed part way through the second and just couldn't recover."
-- The steam coming out of coach Lindy Ruff's ears after the first period against Washington could have melted the ice at the Verizon Center, and not even improved play in the second period was enough to overcome one of the Sabres' worst starts of the season. Buffalo was outshot 15-4, trailed 2-0 after 20 minutes and never recovered.
"We didn't go to work," an angry Ruff said. "If you play like that, you have no chance to win in this league. We weren't on the puck. We didn't compete for pucks. We just decided not to show up in the first period. It was shocking. I can't hide it."
– Ottawa's offence has gone cold. Jarkko Ruutu
has two goals in the Senators' last four games … Buffalo's Derek Roy is 2-2-4 in his last four games and 4-8-12 in his last 13. Goaltender Ryan Miller has won two of his last three decisions and is tops in save percentage (.935) and second in goals-against average (1.99).
– The Senators lost their captain during Wednesday's loss in Pittsburgh when Daniel Alfredsson
went down with a shoulder injury that will keep him out for 4-6 weeks. The Sens did get Leclaire and forwards Chris Neil
and Shean Donovan back on Wednesday. No. 1 center Jason Spezza
(knee) likely won't return until after the Olympics and forward Nick Foligno
(knee) is also sidelined, probably for at least another week … For the Sabres, Thomas Vanek (abdomen), Patrick Kaleta (neck), Chris Butler (ankle) and Nathan Gerbe (groin) all are banged up
– After going 13-7-4 in the season's first two months, Ottawa is 5-8-0 in December. The Senators had allowed just 34 second-period goals before being blitzed for five goals in the middle period at Pittsburgh. The Sens are 0-for-18 on the power play in their last five games … The Sabres are 10-1-3 in one-goal games and 10-5-0 in games decided by three or more goals – but just 2-5-0 in two-goal games. Buffalo had allowed just 18 power-play goals before surrendering two (in two tries) in the third period in the loss to Washington.
– It could be a tough night for the Senators, who will be without their two best offensive players for the foreseeable future and can't afford the kind of defensive problems they had against Pittsburgh. Expect the Sabres to come out fast after their poor first-period showing in Washington.