For a sputtering Buffalo Sabres team needing all the help it can get to reach the playoffs, a matchup with a last-place club might seem welcome.
However, the Ottawa Senators don't play like a last-place club when they face the Sabres.
Buffalo tries to avoid its fourth loss in five games overall Tuesday night when it visits Ottawa, which has won four of five games in the season series.
The Sabres (34-27-8) are currently 10th in the Eastern Conference, but only three points behind Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot and six points back of fifth-place Pittsburgh. Buffalo hasn't been helping its own cause lately, though, losing three of its last four games and six of nine since starting goaltender Ryan Miller went down with a left ankle injury.
Miller has begun skating on his own to test the ankle and is confident he will play again this season, but there remains no timetable for his return.
"We want him to keep progressing, and I hope to get him sooner than later," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said Monday, though he also said he "couldn't even guess" when Miller might return.
In Miller's absence, former Ottawa starter Patrick Lalime has started all nine contests, allowed a total of 22 goals and received spotty offensive support. The Sabres have totaled 11 goals in their last six losses.
Lalime's worst performance of the current stretch came at Ottawa on March 7, when he made 30 saves but allowed all the goals in Buffalo's 6-3 defeat. Daniel Alfredsson and Nick Foligno had two goals apiece for the Senators, who improved to 4-1-0 in the season series.
Ottawa is 19-6-4 versus Buffalo since the start of the 2005-06 season.
Lalime is 1-2-0 with one tie, a 3.73 goals-against average and an .878 save percentage lifetime versus the Senators, for whom he won 146 games from 1999-2004 - still more than double the victory total of any other goaltender in the history of the franchise.
He gave up three goals through overtime Saturday and the game-winner to Brett Sterling in a shootout as the Sabres fell 4-3 at home to Atlanta.
Though the Senators (28-30-10) occupy the Northeast Division cellar and will all but certainly see their run of 11 straight postseason appearances snapped, they have won five of their last six games and are 11-6-3 under interim coach Cory Clouston.
Ottawa trailed by two goals with eight minutes left Saturday at Pittsburgh, but rallied to force overtime. The game wound up in a shootout, where Mike Comrie scored the deciding goal in the Senators' 4-3 victory.
"We didn't quit," Comrie said. "The third period was well-executed, and in overtime I think we outchanced them by a few chances. Anytime you get a win, especially when you're down a couple of goals going into the third period, you realize your character."
Brian Elliott made 27 saves in regulation and overtime to win his fifth straight decision. Elliott has been in net for three of Ottawa's wins over Buffalo this season, stopping 86 of 92 shots.