The Ottawa Senators have been searching for ways to fire up their tepid offense all season. A matchup against one of the NHL’s hottest goalies probably isn’t the answer.
Ryan Miller will likely be in net seeking his fourth straight victory on Saturday as his Buffalo Sabres open a home-and-home set by visiting the Senators, who have been shut out twice during their four-game losing streak.
After shutout victories over Phoenix and Toronto in his previous two starts, Miller finally allowed his first goal in more than 157 minutes Friday against Montreal, but he still made 35 saves to backstop Buffalo to a 3-2 win.
“Ryan kept us in the game. … Every night, he gives us a chance,” defenseman Jaroslav Spacek said.
Miller has been the centerpiece of the Sabres’ surge in 2009, going 11-3-0 with a 2.12 goals-against average since the beginning of January. He’s allowed two or fewer goals 10 times over that span, compiling a stellar .935 save percentage.
“You need your goalie to play well, and he did that,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “He has played very well. There’s no secret there.”
Miller has helped the Sabres (28-20-5) keep winning despite some injury problems, and they’ll have to play at least the next week without center Paul Gaustad, who is sidelined with an upper-body injury. On Friday, though, both Spacek (hip) and Jochen Hecht (upper body) returned from injury and Hecht assisted on Spacek’s second-period goal.
Center Tim Connolly also scored, continuing his recent run of strong play. On the injured list for much of the season until last month, Connolly now has nine goals and three assists in his last nine games.
Buffalo has pulled into a tie with Philadelphia for sixth place in the Eastern Conference, although the playoff race remains crowded with three other teams within four points of the Sabres and Flyers.
“We’re getting there,” Miller said. “I’m not going to start looking at it too much.”
Playoff hopes are faint for the Senators (17-25-8), who rank last in the league with 2.36 goals per game. Ottawa has lost four straight overall, including its first two games under coach Cory Clouston, promoted after the team fired Craig Hartsburg earlier this week.
Still, the Senators turned in a promising effort against NHL-leading Boston on Thursday, erasing a two-goal deficit and leading in the final five minutes before losing 4-3 in a shootout.
“It’s obviously disappointing to lose but we did some great things tonight and I think that’s the most important thing,” forward Nick Foligno said. “We’ve just got to continue to do those things and I thought we took it to them for the majority of the night.”
Foligno had a goal and an assist against the Bruins, a positive sign as the Senators seek offense from a source other than the first line of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley. Aside from those three players, no Ottawa forward has more than 18 points.
Spezza has four goals in two games this season against the Sabres, which the teams split. The center has 14 goals and 10 assists in 17 games against Buffalo since the beginning of the 2006-07 season.
The Sabres have won their last two visits to Scotiabank Place after dropping their previous five games there, and Miller has won his last two outings versus the Senators after starting his career 6-10-0 with a 3.24 GAA against them.
Neither team has a game between Saturday and Wednesday, when the clubs meet again in Buffalo.