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NHL Preview from The Sports Network

Saturday, December 26th (All times eastern)

Ottawa Senators (18-15-4) at Buffalo Sabres (22-11-3), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The Ottawa Senators will try to avoid a third straight loss when they visit the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena for a battle between Northeast Division opponents.

Ottawa is 2-0 against the first-place Sabres this year, but this marks the first meeting in western New York between the clubs.

The Senators have outscored the Sabres by a combined 7-3 margin in the season series and have won six straight and seven of the last eight encounters overall. Ottawa has also taken five out of six in Buffalo and was 2-1-0 at HSBC Arena last year.

However, Ottawa has struggled tremendously in its last two outings as it was blanked 2-0 by visiting Boston on Monday and was then slammed, 8-2, in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

Evgeni Malkin recorded a hat trick, while Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz each had four points to lead the Penguins to the easy win. But, Ottawa lost more than the game as captain and leading scorer Daniel Alfredsson suffered a left shoulder injury after being on the receiving end of a high hit doled out by Penguins right winger Craig Adams late in the first period.

Alfredsson, who said he expects to miss "a few weeks", leads the Senators with 22 assists and 31 points this season. Ottawa was already playing without another key offensive contributor in Jason Spezza, who will be sidelined until February with a torn MCL in his right knee.

Anton Volchenkov and Chris Kelly scored in the lopsided loss for the Senators, who have dropped three of four since beating Buffalo, 2-0, on December 16.

Goaltender Pascal Leclaire returned to the crease for Ottawa, stopping 18- of-24 shots before being pulled after 40 minutes. He had been sidelined since November 23 with a fractured cheekbone he sustained when struck by a stray puck while sitting on the bench. Backup Brian Elliott, who started 15 of the last 16 games in Leclaire's absence, made 10 saves in the third period.

Ottawa is just 5-10-1 as the visiting team this year and has lost three straight on the road. Following tonight's test, the Sens will return to Canada's capital city for a five-game homestand.

The Sabres have lost two of three and three of their last five games, but are still four points ahead of Boston for the division lead.

Buffalo is coming off Wednesday's 5-2 loss in Washington as Alex Ovechkin notched a goal and two assists to lead the Capitals to the win.

Tim Connolly and Paul Gaustad each had a goal for the Sabres, while Ryan Miller was touched for all five goals on 38 shots.

"There's nothing unfortunate about it, we just didn't go to work tonight," said Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff. "When you play like that you've got no chance of winning in this league. We just decided not to show up in the first period."

The Sabres were once again without winger Thomas Vanek, who has missed the last three games with an abdominal injury. Vanek is tied for the team lead with 10 goals this season and is questionable for tonight's game as is fellow forward Patrick Kaleta, who has sat out the last two games with a neck injury.

Buffalo is 12-5-3 as the host this year, but is home for just one game as the Sabres will visit St. Louis tomorrow night.

12/26 10:30:39 ET

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