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Sabres try to hold off another Northeast rival in Sens

by Brian Hunter /

SABRES (12-5-2) at SENATORS (10-6-3)

Last 10: Buffalo 5-4-1; Ottawa 5-4-1

Season series: First of six meetings this season between these Northeast Division rivals. Ottawa won five of six last season, including the final four. Jason Spezza scored five goals for the Senators and Daniel Alfredsson had four. Brian Elliott was a perfect 4-0 in net. Drew Stafford's three goals led the Sabres.

Big Story: Ottawa will be missing a couple of key veterans, as Alex Kovalev returned to Russia after Thursday's win over Pittsburgh due to the death of his mother-in-law and Shean Donovan suffered an apparent serious knee injury on a collision with the Penguins' Matt Cooke. In the case of Kovalev, he could rejoin the Senators for their next game.

"The best-case scenario is that we could have him for Monday. Possibly that early," Ottawa coach Cory Clouston said. "We understand if it takes a little bit longer but he showed how he feels about the guys (by playing Thursday) and how important it is (to him) to get back with the team."

Team Scope:

Sabres: For the second time in 24 hours, Buffalo will contend with an opponent fast on its tail in the division race. They lost a point in the standings to Boston on Friday with a 2-1 loss on a Patrice Bergeron goal 47 seconds into overtime. The Sabres now lead the Bruins by only two points, the Senators by three and the Canadiens by four, in what is shaping up to be an exciting battle for one of the Eastern Conference's top three seeds.

"It's always disappointing losing ground," coach Lindy Ruff said. "(The Bruins have) been playing real well and getting some healthy bodies back. They're playing a lot better."

Senators: Chris Phillips scored twice in his 800th NHL game and Milan Michalek picked up his 100th career goal to highlight Ottawa’s 6-2 win over Pittsburgh. Currently riding a two-game winning streak, the Senators hold down third in the Northeast. Now they have to deal with the absences of Kovalev and Donovan. Getting a chance to step in and contribute will be Peter Regin and Ryan Shannon, healthy scratches the last two games.

"They should maybe be a little bit hungrier," Clouston said. "Both of them have been talked to and they know what they have to do. It's a matter of going out there and playing the game, not worrying that this is do or die for them and they have one game to show themselves. Just go out there and play the game the way they know how."

Who's Hot: Paul Gaustad scored Buffalo's lone goal against Boston and has two in his last three games. Ottawa forward Mike Fisher has five points (two goals, three assists) in his last two games, while Michalek has goals in consecutive games.

Injury Report: Forward Mike Grier has been out for the Sabres with a groin injury. In addition to Donovan's knee injury, the Senators are missing defenseman Anton Volchenkov (elbow), who could return at some point next week.

Stat Pack: Half of the Senators' goals in their last game came from the blue line, with Matt Carkner getting them on the board in the first period before Phillips scored twice in short order in the third.

"It's important," Phillips said. "Not just the defense (scoring goals) but up front, the depth guys, the defensive guys chipping in once in awhile. It really takes the load off the guys who are expected to do that every night."

Puck Drop: Ryan Miller played another strong game in net Friday despite the loss, stopping 24 shots. Facing a division rival on the road on the second night of a back-to-back, it will be interesting to see if Ruff turns again to Miller or gives the nod to backup Patrick Lalime, who has played just 87 minutes this season.


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