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MacGregor: Senators gain a little bit of traction with home win over Sabres

Buffalo Sabres center Steve Ott (9) shoots on Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson (41) in the first period at the Canadian Tire Centre.

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports/USA Today Sports

It's a good word to use – "traction" – given the current weather situation and the short-term prospects.

If the Ottawa Senators don't get moving soon….

Head coach Paul MacLean uses it; the players use it; and it fits rather nicely with the Canadian Tire Centre and what has been happening, and not happening, on the ice of that rink.

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The Senators have simply not been good at home, and Thursday night at CTC it showed in the stands as well as the standings.

The Senators did, however, manage to hold on for a 2-1 victory. That, coupled with Toronto's loss, brings the Senators to within three points of the Maple Leafs.

The home team came into their match against the Buffalo Sabres with a 5-8-3 home record and a better 7-6-3 showing on the road. The 30 points had them in 11th place in the eastern conference – but with the final playoff position, eighth place, only two points away.

In other words, both misery and hope within roughly equal reach.

Playing against the lowly Sabres, last place in the NHL, should have been seen as a gift, yet only two nights earlier the Senators had lost in a 10-round shootout to these same Sabres.

This, the players conceded, was to be a pivotal week in the 2013-14 fortunes of their inconsistent, maddening team. Two chances against the Sabres to show some "traction," then home to the red-hot L.A. Kings Saturday afternoon and the St. Louis Blues on Monday.

Early on, it seemed they had indeed gained some, as an early Sabres goal was fortunately waved off when hulking Buffalo forward John Scott was called for goaltender interference.

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Ottawa then went ahead – a rare occasion at home or away – on Bobby Ryan's 15th goal of the season. Just as Scott's penalty had ended, Ryan was able to chip a Kyle Turris pass across the crease high into the Buffalo net behind goaltender Ryan Miller.

Moments after the announced crowd of 15,578 saluted Ottawa defenceman Joe Corvo for appearing in his 700th career game, Corvo fell at the opposition blueline and allowed Buffalo captain Steve Ott to race in on a clean breakaway – only to be stopped by a fine pad save by Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson.

Buffalo did manage to tie the game before the period was out, however, when forward Tyler Ennis scored on a power play, his seventh of the season coming on a wraparound that the Ottawa defence watched in admiration.

For the most part, the Senators were a defensive nightmare in their own end, while the Sabres are by and large a defensive nightmare, which makes for close, but dreary, hockey.

The Senators were without two of their key defencemen, with Marc Methot out with the flu and Jared Cowen serving a two-game suspension for a hit to the head he delivered Tuesday night in Buffalo to Zemgus Girgensons. It was Girgensons who scored the Sabres only goal in regulation and Girgensons who settled the long shootout with another goal.

Ottawa was forced to bring Binghamton Senators defenceman Cody Ceci up on emergency call-up; the Ottawa native performed well on such short notice.

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Ottawa's best player Thursday was clearly Craig Anderson. While the veteran goaltender has struggled this season, his play this night was stellar as his defence allowed the Sabres chance after chance.

The Senators took the lead in the second period when Zack Smith caught a lucky bounce off a defenceman's skate and slammed the puck in behind Miller.

This game was no eye candy for hockey fans: badly executed, often chaotic, plagues with bad decisions. But the goaltending was admirable at both ends, with the Sabres outshooting the Senators 41-32. Miller's third-period save on a Mika Zibanejad break was his finest moment; Anderson had several, none so impressive as when he stopped Drew Stafford on an open breakaway after Stafford picked off an ill-considered Erik Karlsson pass.

There are no points for style in hockey, but points for results, and the Senators, despite scruffy hockey, came away with three of a possible four points in their back-to-back meetings with the Buffalo Sabres.

A bit of traction, maybe, for heading into far tougher competition on the weekend.

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