BUFFALO -- Help is on the way for the shorthanded Senators.
Daniel Alfredsson will likely return to the lineup for tonight's road trip-ending game against the Sabres after missing the past four games with a hip injury. Peter Schaefer also hopes to be back after a one game absence, but his infected eye was acting up again yesterday and his status is a little less certain.
Both players improve the Senators in multiple areas, not the least of which being penalty-killing units that have survived only 20 of their last 31 shorthanded situations.
"I'll probably let the coach know after the morning skate, but if it feels as good as it did today, I'm playing," Alfredsson said after yesterday's practice at HSBC Arena. "It's not 100%, and it won't be 100% when I come back, either. But it's at the point where it's not going to get worse and it's just a matter of playing with a little discomfort."
The Senators, who have lost four of five and are coming off an embarrassing 6-0 thrashing by the Nashville Predators, would be in deep against the Sabres with or without the cavalry. Buffalo has dropped just six of 31 games and has the highest scoring offence in the Eastern Conference.
"Good players make players around them better," coach Bryan Murray said of his captain's expected return. "And Daniel Alfredsson is a good player. Having him and Schaefer out affects how we can use our personnel. We've had two guys playing on the second line that play on the fourth line, occasionally."
Lucky for the Senators, the Sabres' power play is struggling with only four goals in its last 50 opportunities. Ottawa doesn't need to be facing the Anaheim Mighty Ducks power play now. After starting the season strongly on the penalty kill, the Senators have been brutal in that aspect of the game lately.
Nashville converted on two of six power plays, but another goal came just two seconds after Chris Phillips stepped out of the box and yet one more was scored three seconds after a Joe Corvo penalty had expired.
The Senators didn't put enough pressure on the Predators, who were able to move the puck quickly and hit seams with their passes for easy goals.
"We're not working hard enough on the PK," said Mike Fisher. "Sometimes you can be bad and the other team doesn't score because you're getting lucky. But now when we're making mistakes, everything is going in."
It's time to start cutting back on the errors. At 16-16-1, the Senators are smack dab in an Eastern Conference logjam. Prior to last night's games, they were one point behind sixth-place Carolina and one ahead of 12th-place Boston.
A significant part of yesterday's practice was devoted to moving the puck quickly from the defensive zone -- a flaw Murray has been trying to correct for some time.
Buffalo, like Nashville, has an abundance of quick forwards who can take advantage of dilly-dallying defencemen.
"We can all skate, we can all pass ... we just have to do it," said Phillips. "We have to move the puck quicker, maybe with a little more urgency."
It appears a little more effort is needed, as well, although Chris Neil says the work ethic is still solid.
"We just weren't on the same page (in Nashville)," said Neil. "It's like we weren't mentally focused."