OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Senators know they are not in position to take any opponent lightly.
Especially not the Buffalo Sabres, who might be one of the few teams below them in the standings but who have been enjoying a good stretch of play after a horrible start.
The Sabres were 3-13-2 in their first 18 games but are 11-6-1 in their past 18 heading into their game against the Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on Monday. They have closed to within four points of the seventh-place Senators in the Atlantic Division.
The Sabres are coming off a 4-3 win against the New York Islanders on Saturday which they trailed 3-0.
Senators coach Dave Cameron was asked if the Sabres have been a surprise after their start.
"You can label them what you want. To me, it's the National Hockey League. There's no easy games," he said. "To me, our team isn't in a position where we can guarantee wins. The Sabres, they've got real good goaltending, they're very opportunistic and they work extremely hard. I'll be really disappointed if we underestimated them or any other team."
Sabres forward Chris Stewart's season has been much like that of his team. The 27-year-old wing had four points in the first 27 games. After he was a healthy scratch Dec. 9, which he said embarrassed him, he has two goals and three assists in eight games.
He said Sabres coach Ted Nolan knows how to push his buttons.
"Some guys have to be spoken to in different ways," Nolan said. "[Stewart], it took me a little while to figure out what his personality is and you guess which buttons to push to aggravate him a little bit to get him to focus on what he's capable of doing. So far, so good. He's been playing the best I've seen him since we got him."
Stewart said, "I think when I'm playing my game, there's a select few guys that can bring to the table what I can bring.
Stewart said after that rough start, the Sabres realized the only remedy to their situation was going to come from within their dressing room. He said the camaraderie has been strong since then.
"We've got a tight-knit group here. They really believe in each other," he said. "We know when we're on our toes and we're playing 60 minutes of our hockey, we're going to get the goaltending so we believe if we're going to play that 60 minutes we're going to be there at the end of the game.
"We took some ugly losses and we took some lumps, but we came together and we realized this was going to be the group to do it. We pulled together as a team and pulled each other out of it.
"There's no egos and there's no attitudes on this team. Everyone is easy-going and everyone is approachable. I think that's one of the main things for the turnaround."
The Senators have lost three games in a row (0-2-1) for the first time since Cameron took over from Paul MacLean on Dec. 8, and are 3-3-2 under Cameron.
The Senators outshot an opponent five times under MacLean but have matched or outshot their opponent in four of the eight games under Cameron. They outshot their past two opponents, the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings, 72-50, but lost those games.
"There's been games where we haven't been playing as good as we want to and still won," Senators captain Erik Karlsson said. "There's been games we've been playing the way we need to win and we haven't. I think we just need to keep doing what we're doing and maybe put a little bit more detail into every situation."
One area that needs to improve is the power play. The Senators are 0-for-11 with the man-advantage during their losing streak.
"It's been a little bit up and down. I still think we created a lot of chances and momentum in the game that helps us 5-on-5. In the end, we need to score more goals," Karlsson said.
Senators wing Clarke MacArthur said, "I think we need to get more odd-man rushes at the net. If there's a shot from the point we need to get three guys in there instead of 2-on-2. We just need to put pucks to the net. We've shot a few into the shin pads. We've tried to make it too cute a few times."
Here are the projected lineups:
Matt Moulson – Zemgus Girgensons – Tyler Ennis
Nicolas Deslauriers – Brian Flynn – Drew Stafford
Cody Hodgson – Mikhail Grigorenko – Chris Stewart
Johan Larsson – Cody McCormick – Patrick Kaleta
Josh Gorges – Mark Pysyk
Nikita Zadorov – Andre Benoit
Mike Weber – Andrej Meszaros
Injured: Matt Hackett (knee), Tyler Myers (lower body), Rasmus Ristolainen (illness), Torrey Mitchell (lower body), Tyson Strachan (lower body), Marcus Foligno (hand), Brian Gionta (head)
Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris – Mark Stone
Mike Hoffman – Mika Zibanejad - Bobby Ryan
Erik Condra - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Alex Chiasson
Milan Michalek - David Legwand – Colin Greening
Mark Borowiecki - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Cody Ceci
Chris Phillips - Eric Gryba
Scratched: Patrick Wiercioch
Injured: Zack Smith (wrist), Chris Neil (knee), Marc Methot (back/hip)
Status report: Nolan said Strachan, who has missed the past three games because of injury, could take the warm-up and be a game-time decision. … Cameron is getting into a pattern of alternating Phillips and Wiercioch game-to-game. Phillips sat Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings and will be back in at Wiercioch's expense Monday. … Cameron said Neil and Methot skated Sunday but there's no date set for their returns.
Who's hot: Deslauriers and Stewart each have two goals and two assists in the past four games. … Stafford has three assists in the past two games.