OTTAWA -- It wasn't too long ago there wouldn't have been much anticipation for an Ottawa Senators game against the Buffalo Sabres at Canadian Tire Centre.
Now there's a buzz in the city for the game Friday with the emergence of Senators goaltender Andrew Hammond, nicknamed "Hamburglar," whose 6-0-1 run this season is a big reason the Senators are back in the Stanley Cup Playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
On Feb. 10 the Senators were 14 points out of the second wild-card position in the East; now they are five points behind the Boston Bruins with one game in hand.
Hammond, 27, has captured the imagination of Senators fans since he was thrown into action after injuries sustained by top goaltenders Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner.
He has a 1.35 goals against average and a .957 save percentage since joining the Senators.
He led the Senators to a 4-0-1 road trip through California, Minnesota and Winnipeg and said he doesn't know quite what to expect Friday, which will be his first home start this season.
"I don’t really have any expectations," he said. "It's going to be special for me just playing another home game. Any time you get a chance to play in this city it's exciting. For me it might be a little bit more special ovation, I don't know. I'm not sure what to expect. I'm just trying to treat it like another game and another opportunity to move the team back into the playoff race."
Anderson said Friday his hand has improved enough to back up Hammond. It appeared Anderson was going to start Wednesday against the Winnipeg Jets, but plans changed when Anderson didn't feel 100 percent.
"[Hammond] is playing great," Anderson said. "The team is playing great. At that point I felt I wouldn't be doing the team any justice by being back in there. I want to be in there and it's frustrating for me not to play. It hurts to not play. I'm doing everything I possibly can to get myself in that situation to play again. The best word is frustrated that I'm not feeling as good as I hoped that I'd be.
"It's killing me inside to not play and watch and not being able to be there for the guys. It hurts."
Senators coach Dave Cameron said he spent part of Friday morning addressing the issue of teams often losing the first game at home after a long road trip.
Cameron was asked if he was worried about the Senators being over-confident against the Sabres, who are 30th in the League with 43 points.
"I hope not," he said. "I know there is a history in the [NHL] when you come off a long road trip your first game at home is a struggle. What we talk about is games aren't won on paper. We talked today about putting the work in from the start and hopefully we won't have to be chasing the game. It's going to be a tough game coming off the road trip, but no excuses."
The Sabres are 3-3-2 in their past eight games, but traded away some players who had made good contributions at the NHL Trade Deadline on Monday, including goaltender Jhonas Enroth.
Goaltender Chad Johnson was scheduled to make his first start for the Sabres but sustained a lower-body injury during the morning skate. Anders Lindback likely will start in goal; the Sabres recalled Andrey Makarov from Rochester of the American Hockey League to serve as the backup.
It's the third time Makarov has been recalled to the NHL but he has yet to play in a game. In 33 AHL games this season he's 14-14-3 with a 3.04 goals-against average and .899 save percentage.
Sabres veteran forward Brian Gionta said he knows it's going to be challenging for the Sabres down the stretch but that there are goals to be accomplished.
"It's tough, and day-to-day you've got to make sure you're keeping the right mindset and keeping priorities straight," he said. "You've got to approach these last 18 games, these young guys have a great shot to show themselves; and for the veteran guys it' setting a precedent for next year, trying to find our game and carry that over to next year."
Sabres coach Ted Nolan said the progress of those young players is being measured by consistency.
"It doesn't matter your situation in life, you have to work and you have to compete," he said. "We're in the National Hockey League and these guys are well taken care of. The only thing we ask is work and compete, then skill and all those things will take care of itself. The bottom line is if you don't work and you don't compete, you have no chance whatsoever. It doesn't matter how much skill you have.
"But to really work all the time and compete all the time, I think that's the difference between playing at the American Hockey League level and playing at this level. You just have to really establish yourself first, and by establishing yourself you have to not just think or assume we see it, you've got to show it all the time. I've seen glimpses of it but not all the time."
Here are the projected lineups:
Matt Moulson - Phil Varone - Tyler Ennis
Marcus Foligno - Mikhail Grigorenko - Brian Gionta
Nicolas Deslauriers - Johann Larsson - Cody Hodgson
Jerry D'Amigo - Tim Schaller - Matt Ellis
Andre Benoit - Zach Bogosian
Nikita Zadorov - Andrej Meszaros
Mike Weber - Rasmus Ristolainen
Scratched: Tyson Strachan, Zac Dalpe
Injured: Chad Johnson (lower body), Josh Gorges (lower body), Cody McCormick (blood clot), Evander Kane (shoulder), Zemgus Girgensons (ankle), Patrick Kaleta (lower body)
Milan Michalek - Kyle Turris - Mark Stone
Mike Hoffman - Mika Zibanejad - Bobby Ryan
Matt Puempel - David Legwand - Alex Chiasson
Erik Condra - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Curtis Lazar
Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson
Patrick Wiercioch - Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki - Eric Gryba
Scratched: Colin Greening
Injured: Robin Lehner (concussion), Clarke MacArthur (concussion), Chris Phillips (back), Zack Smith (wrist), Chris Neil (thumb)
Status report: Dalpe is not with the Sabres because of a personal family issue. … It's expected the only lineup change for the Sabres from their 3-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday will be Grigorenko going in for Dalpe…. Cameron said MacArthur still has concussion symptoms but is feeling better. … Cameron said Lehner hasn't been around the rink and isn't doing as well as MacArthur in his recovery. … Phillips has been skating but isn't close to being ready to return, according to Cameron. … Smith has been upgraded to week-to-week.
Who's hot: Zibanejad has two goals and three assists in his past five games. … Karlsson has one goal and three assists in his past three games. … Ryan has two goals and one assist in his past two games.