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The underachieving Ottawa Senators have been waiting for a spark to get them going this season. A victory over the NHL's best team might have done the trick.
Ottawa looks to build on its most impressive win of the season when it visits the New Jersey Devils on Friday.
The Senators (7-10-1) have been one of the league's best teams for quite some time and were considered to be a leading Stanley Cup contender again this year despite some offseason changes. Ottawa, though, has yet to find its form and recently lost five straight (0-4-1) for the first time in more than a decade.
Coming off losses to Boston and Montreal, the Senators faced a difficult challenge with a road game against league-leading Buffalo on Wednesday, but responded with a 4-2 victory for just their second win in nine contests.
Peter Schaefer snapped a tie with 7:11 remaining and Mike Fisher finished with two assists for Ottawa, which entered with the third-fewest points in the Eastern Conference.
"We're not playing beautiful hockey ... we're just trying to find a way to win like we did today," captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "It's one game, but it's a very big game for us."
Ray Emery stopped 27 shots in his first start since a loss at Montreal on Oct. 31. He has been hampered by a sprained left wrist sustained eight days earlier in practice. Martin Gerber had lost four of five starts in Emery's absence.
"It was a big win," Emery said. "We need to start turning things around and having a positive attitude and start thinking we can win games like that one."
The Senators were 15-3-0 with 85 goals scored after 18 games in 2005-06, but haven't been nearly as potent this season with 60 goals at the same point. One of the biggest culprits has been Alfredsson, who registered career highs of 43 goals and 103 points last season, but has been limited to four goals and 15 points thus far.
Ottawa should be confident heading into this matchup since it coasted to an 8-1 rout of the Devils at home on Oct. 21 behind two goals apiece from Antoine Vermette and Dean McAmmond.
The Senators also won their last visit to New Jersey on March 19 as Emery made 22 saves in a 4-0 victory. Emery has three wins, a shootout loss and a 1.72 goals-against average in four starts against the Devils (10-6-1).
New Jersey's season-best four-game win streak came to an end with a 3-2 defeat to the New York Rangers on Tuesday, but most disappointing was the manner in which it lost.
Jaromir Jagr scored two goals 26 seconds apart early in the third period and Brendan Shanahan finished off the Rangers' improbable rally just over a minute later.
"We've been paying attention to detail, and for two periods tonight we were," left wing Brian Gionta said. "It was just a couple-of-minute letdown in the third that hurt us. We had plenty of goals to win the game."
Tuesday's loss was yet another close game for the Devils, who have been involved in nine one-goal contests this season, including four of their past five.
Gionta has struggled to produce with linemate Scott Gomez sidelined with a groin injury, scoring one goal in his last nine games. Gomez is expected to miss his sixth straight game on Friday.
Ottawa's Dany Heatley has five goals and two assists during a five-game point streak against New Jersey.