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The Buffalo Sabres got a big boost with the return of Maxim Afinogenov to the lineup in their win Friday. They may get an equal-sized lift on the defensive end Saturday.
Goaltender Ryan Miller is expected to start for Buffalo at Scotiabank Place against the struggling Ottawa Senators in a matchup of Northeast Division teams.
The Sabres (16-2-1) extended their division lead to seven points Friday with a 4-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Afinogenov, who had missed the previous five games with a shoulder injury, opened the scoring with a power-play goal 6:06 into the contest and added an assist on Thomas Vanek's second-period goal as Buffalo won for the fifth time in its last six games.
"The first couple of shifts I was careful because I wanted to see how I felt," said Afinogenov, who was the team's leading scorer when he suffered the injury Nov. 4 against Toronto. "When I got a couple of hits, I knew it was good and I could just relax and play my game. I wanted to come back and help the team, and I think that's what I did this game."
As Afinogenov healed his shoulder, Vanek shouldered the scoring load. The 21-year-old left wing extended his goal-scoring streak to three games and his points streak to six games, totaling six goals and two assists in that span. Vanek, though, has just four points in 10 lifetime games against the Senators.
Miller, who is 9-1-1 with a 2.64 goals-against average and .913 save percentage, has been sidelined since Nov. 10 with an abdominal injury. Martin Biron, who made 34 saves Friday and won four of five starts filling in for Miller, sounded like a goaltender who had found his rhythm at an inopportune time.
"I would say it got better every time I was out there," said Biron, who is 7-1-0. "My timing got to where I wanted it to be. Tonight I felt I was pushing hard, in the shooting lane and aggressive. I think it really made a difference."
Miller won his lone start against the Senators this season and is 3-3 lifetime against them.
Ottawa (7-11-1) thought it had turned a corner following its 4-2 win Wednesday at Buffalo, but the Senators regressed to their inconsistent ways with a 3-2 loss Friday to the New Jersey Devils. Hours after team owner Eugene Melnyk gave general manager John Muckler and coach Bryan Murray a public vote of confidence despite the team's slow start, the Senators dug themselves a 3-0 hole and were unable to recover despite third-period goals by Chris Neil and Daniel Alfredsson.
"We're going through a tough spell. Even on nights we play well, we don't get bounces, and things don't go our way," said Senators center Jason Spezza, who hit two goalposts. "It's definitely frustrating, because we know we're a better hockey team than our record indicates."
Ottawa is 2-7-1 in its last 10 games, allowing opponents to convert 25.5 percent (12-for-47) of their power-play chances in that span. The Senators also are 1-9 in one-goal games, losing their last seven since a 3-2 shootout victory Oct. 14 at Montreal.
Emery, who made 27 saves Wednesday in the win over the Sabres, is 5-1-1 with a 2.92 GAA lifetime against them.