|Jason Spezza and the streaking Ottawa Senators hope to edge closer to the top of the Northeast Division standings with a victory over the Sabres in Buffalo on Wednesday night (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images).
With each passing day, it seems, the gap between them shrinks just a little bit more.
Now it can be said the Ottawa Senators have the Northeast Division-leading Buffalo Sabres squarely in the crosshairs as the two teams prepare for a huge showdown on Wednesday night at HSBC Arena in Buffalo (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).
Only five points now separate the old rivals, thanks in great part to the franchise-record nine-game winning streak Ottawa (31-21-4) is currently riding. The Sabres (32-15-7), meanwhile, are 2-4-1 in their last seven outings, though they still own a pair of games in hand. What they're still waiting for — in this season, at least — is a victory over the Senators, who are a perfect 3-0-0 against Buffalo in 2009-10.
"It's just the way it is sometimes against certain teams," captain Daniel Alfredsson
said when asked to explain the Senators' recent hex over the Sabres, a run of dominance that extends all the way back to Ottawa's triumph in the 2007 Eastern Conference final. "There are teams we've been struggling against for a long time and there are others that you always seem to find a way to win (against).
"I think what Buffalo does is definitely play a good style and put a lot of pressure on you, so you have to be prepared. If you're not, they're going to score three or four goals in the first period. They're a very hard, aggressive forechecking team and it brings the best out of us."
Senators head coach Cory Clouston no doubt recalls that his first National Hockey League win came almost a year ago — Feb. 7, 2009, to be exact — when Ottawa edged the Sabres 3-2 in a shootout thriller. Clouston's record against the Sabres is a gaudy 7-0-0, but don't expect the Sens bench boss to take any of that for granted.
"(The Sabres) are just a good hockey team," he said after the Senators held a 45-minute practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place before shuffling off to Buffalo. "They deserve to be where they are in the standings. They've got very good offensive players. They've got a potential rookie of the year (Tyler Myers) on the back end. They've got a lot of good players.
"It's not just (goaltender Ryan) Miller. You can't have that kind of success with one player."
"We’re closing in on these guys and the only way you can catch them is by beating them head-to-head, so it’s an important game. You want to put a little more pressure on them going into the break. If they win, they have a little more breathing room. So we want to make sure we close the gap and make sure we let them know we’re there." - Jason Spezza
But hot as they've been lately, the Senators clearly know there is a huge opportunity at hand to turn up the heat on the Sabres as the Olympic break approaches.
"We’re closing in on these guys and the only way you can catch them is by beating them head-to-head, so it’s an important game," said Senators centre Jason Spezza
, who hopes to extend a career-best six-game goal-scoring streak. "You want to put a little more pressure on them going into the break. If they win, they have a little more breathing room.
"So we want to make sure we close the gap and make sure we let them know we’re there."
Extending their winning streak to an even 10? Just a bonus, said forward Chris Neil
"We’re just taking it game by game," he said. "It doesn’t matter how many games in a row we win, as long as we’re winning. Whenever you lose five in a row, those are the ones you remember. It’s not a matter of winning eight or nine or 12 in a row or 15.
"As long as you have a winning feeling in the dressing room, that’s half the battle. You lose one, you want to get right back on that winning track and get things rolling again."Around the boards
After tomorrow, the Senators and Sabres have two more scheduled meetings — March 26 in Buffalo and April 10 in the season finale for both teams at Scotiabank Place ... Defenceman Anton Volchenkov returned to practice this morning, meaning he should be available in Buffalo ... The Senators have won a season-best five straight on the road ... Ottawa is back home on Thursday night to face the Vancouver Canucks at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet).