by Todd Anderson
The surging Ottawa Senators kick off a home-and-home series with the Buffalo Sabres tonight at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y. Trailing the Northeast Division-leading Sabres by 12 points, the pair of games will go a long way in determining if Ottawa can catch Buffalo for the division lead.
"There's no beating around the bush. You have to win both games against them," Senators head coach Bryan Murray told the Team 1200's Gord Wilson after an optional skate this morning. "You can't get ahead of yourself, but we certainly have to win tonight and then, hopefully, win the next game (Saturday at Scotiabank Place). Then you have a chance to make a little dent in the lead. If we get it down to eight points, then, obviously, you need help from other teams and you have to play awfully well yourself."
With his three-game suspension behind him, Ray Emery starts in goal for the Senators tonight.
"I feel alright, I've had lots of rest," Emery said. "I'm glad (the suspension) is over and I'm excited to get back in there."
Murray says Emery's time away from game action was the primary reason why he chose to start him tonight over Martin Gerber, who went 3-0 during Emery's suspension.
"Martin winning three in a row in a short period of time deserved another chance here, and we appreciate that, but Ray's been out for a number of days now and he definitely needs to get back in and make sure he's ready to play as we go forward."
While the Sabres enter the game without the services of a handful of players due to injuries, the Senators aren't about to take them lightly. Just a short time ago it was the Senators who were suffering with several injuries, and that was when they started to play at the level that has led to 18 wins in their last 24 games.
"We found out that we played better, and harder, when we were short-handed, and Buffalo appears to be doing the same thing," Murray said. "We know (Chris) Drury is going to be there, (Daniel) Brière is going to be there and (Thomas) Vanek is going to be there. They score goals and their back end is pretty good at moving the puck, and they still have their goaltender. They're still going to be competitive and we have to be ready for that."