Last 10: Buffalo 5-4-1; Ottawa 3-7-0
Season series: Third of six meetings this season between these Northeast Division rivals. The road team has been victorious in the first two. Derek Roy scored twice on opening night to give Buffalo a 2-1 win on Oct. 8 before Daniel Alfredsson recorded the hat trick and reached 1,000 points for his career in a 4-2 Ottawa triumph on Oct. 22.
Big story: Slowly but surely, life is beginning to improve for the Sabres. A team that didn't win its first home game until mid-November and resided near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings for a while has now won two straight and five of seven at HSBC Arena, in the process moving into a third-place tie with the Senators in the Northeast.
Sabres: Injuries and inconsistency plagued Ryan Miller early on, but he's rounded into form and started to resemble the goalie who has won at least 30 games each of the last five seasons. Miller needed only 19 saves to record his first shutout of the season, as Buffalo had its way Friday night with Columbus in a 5-0 victory. Thomas Vanek scored a power-play goal and assisted on power-play tallies by Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford. Tyler Ennis also scored a goal and assisted on two others.
"It was the whole package," coach Lindy Ruff said. "It might be as good a game as we played."
Senators: Ever since a four-game winning streak to begin the month of November, the goal well has run dry for Ottawa and as a result the victories have been few and far between. The Senators have lost eight of 11 and scored only 17 times during that stretch. With a pumped-up Scotiabank Place crowd ready to let ex-Senator Dany Heatley hear it at every turn Thursday, the home team gave its fans little else to make noise about, getting blanked 4-0 by the Sharks.
"I thought they did everything they could to help us out," Alfredsson said. "They were really fired up. There was a great energy in the building. I think everybody expected the boos and the chants and I thought they handled it pretty classy. I didn't hear any really bad words."
Who's hot: Miller has won three of his last four starts for the Sabres, giving up just six goals over that span and posting a .952 save percentage.
Injury report: Buffalo forward Rob Niedermayer is on injured reserve after undergoing knee surgery, while forward Tim Connolly is day-to-day with a groin injury. Stafford returned Friday after missing 11 games with a shoulder injury.
Stat pack:Erik Karlsson of the Senators had an assist and a plus-1 rating against the Penguins on Nov. 26 after being a healthy scratch for a couple games, but has no points and a minus-2 rating over the last three games.
Puck drop: Ottawa forward Mike Fisher — who registered a career-high 53 points last season but, like most of his teammates, has struggled with 7 goals and just 11 points through 26 games — remains convinced the Senators can break out of their offensive funk and turn their fortunes around.
"We have the group to do it," he said on Friday. "It's just a matter of doing little things and trying to build ourselves up and believing in ourselves. If you don't have that, you're not going to win games. That's what we need to have and build on."