Season series: This is the fourth of six meetings this season between the Northeast Division rivals. In their last matchup on Dec. 4, Thomas Vanek scored the lone shootout marker in a 1-0 Sabres win that saw goaltenders Ryan Miller and Brian Elliott combine for 63 stops in regulation and overtime.
Big story: With the Eastern Conference playoff picture slowly taking shape, Buffalo and Ottawa are going in drastically different directions. Despite a slow start and numerous injuries, the Sabres have strung together three wins in their last four games and are now just six points behind eighth-place Atlanta, which has played three more games.
The Senators, on the other hand, are truly a team in turmoil. They have lost five straight and were outscored 13-3 in their last two games. That streak has dropped the Senators to last place in the division.
Sabres: After going 9-13-3 in October and November, the Sabres have steadily improved their play and jumped back into the playoff race. Not surprisingly, star goaltender Ryan Miller has led the resurgence, going 8-2-1 in his last 12 starts. The lone non-decision in that stretch came on Jan. 21 against the Islanders, when Miller was pulled after allowing two goals in the game’s opening 10:31.
The Sabres’ workhorse goalie earned some measure of redemption on Jan. 23rd, when he made 31 stops to help Buffalo beat the Islanders 5-3 on Long Island.
"I got the feeling that wasn't about me," Miller said about his early exit against the Islanders. "It was just a couple of tough bounces to start the game. I wanted to just re-establish my game.”
Senators: Following Ottawa’s 7-1 thrashing on Friday at the hands of the Canadiens, Senators' forward Jesse Winchester succinctly characterized the loss as "rock bottom." Indeed, a long Senators season may have reached its low point with two losses in two nights against Montreal and Philadelphia in which the Sens were badly outplayed. In both games, Ottawa scored late-period tallies to make things interesting before allowing the Flyers and Canadiens to go on unanswered runs of three and five goals, respectively.
"A couple of mistakes and it's 2-0 before we know it," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said after the Montreal loss. "We battled back hard to get within one and take all the momentum back, but then whenever we have a lapse in our play it seems like it's costing us now."
Who's hot: While Miller has been huge in the Sabres' crease, Buffalo's two smallest players have led the charge offensively. Five-foot-5 Nathan Gerbe has four goals in his current three-game point streak, while 5-9 Tyler Ennis has eight points in his last five games … For the Sens, Nick Foligno has five points in his last six points.
Injury report: Vanek and Drew Stafford are questionable against Ottawa, while Sabres forwards Derek Roy (quad surgery), Tim Connolly (hip), and Patrick Kaleta (broken hand) are on IR ... For the Senators, goaltender Pascal Leclaire is out indefinitely, while forwards Jason Spezza (shoulder) and Jarkko Ruutu (lower body) are on IR.
Stat pack: The two recent Ottawa blowouts have dropped the Sens' total goal differential to minus-51, by far the worst in the league. Even last season, when Ottawa made the playoffs, the team’s minus-13 rating was the worst of any playoff team.
Puck drop: While Miller is due his share of the credit for the Sabres' recent play, Buffalo's power play has been on fire. Despite leading scorer Derek Roy being out, the team's power play has risen from 20th in the league to 12th. All this in a span of just 12 games, during which the Sabres have gone 11-for-40 with the man advantage.