The latest news on the Tim Connolly Watch: more progress but no decision yet.
The Sabres center, out the last five games with a strained oblique muscle, went full speed through practice Tuesday in HSBC Arena and could be in the lineup tonight when the team hosts the Ottawa Senators.
Connolly, who was injured Nov. 5 at Montreal, has gradually increased his practice load each day. He got some work on the Sabres' power-play unit Tuesday.
"I'm pretty close," he said. "It's just a day-to-day thing. It felt really good out there today and I'm definitely moving in the right direction.
"There's always going to be a little ache and pain when you come back. You just want to make sure it's the right type of pain. You don't want to come back if you take a hard stride and something really pulls or tears on you. Today I was able to go full speed and it felt really good."
Coach Lindy Ruff has taken a cautious approach with Connolly, trying to avoid a setback. But Ruff was as optimistic about Connolly's return Tuesday as he's been at any point in the last few days.
"I think he's real close," Ruff said. "We were trying to get him full bore today to see if he has any adverse effects. As long as [he] feels good through the skate [Wednesday morning], there's probably a good chance he'll play.
"You're going up against the best team with probably the best speed in the East. You've got to be ready to play. We're hopeful that if he's near that, he can make a difference."
In particular, the Sabres are looking for a boost on their power play. They have scored just once in their last 19 chances and are 2 for 23 since Connolly's injury.
"Those things happen and every team goes through a time when they have trouble scoring," Connolly said. "You've just got to work to get the pucks to the net and we've been doing a great job of that."
If Connolly returns, Ruff made a point of saying he would skate with Maxim Afinogenov on a line that would also likely include Ales Kotalik.
That seemed to indicate there are no plans yet to make Afinogenov a healthy scratch -- even though his minus-10 rating is the worst in the league among forwards and fourth from the bottom overall.
Afinogenov has just three goals and three assists in 18 games and hasn't scored in the last seven.
"It hasn't been that he's been in the [defensive] zone and hasn't been responsible," Ruff said. "It's when some plays up ice have developed that he's tried to do much individually and that's cost him. He's erred on the side of playing a little too much one-and-one.
"That coupled with the fact his line isn't scoring and you end up with a bad [plus-minus] number. Putting him with Connolly may help him too."
Irish tenor Ronan Tynan will sing "God Bless America" before tonight's game. Tynan, renowned for his renditions of the song at Yankee Stadium, will participate in a pregame autograph signing outside the Sabres Store from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
A brass trio from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will precede Tynan with the Canadian national anthem. Tynan is the headliner for a Dec. 30 concert with the BPO at Kleinhans Music Hall that will benefit the Sabres Foundation.
There are still 400 tickets available for Friday's game against Montreal. It is a Gold game with prices ranging from $85-$203. There are some scattered singles available for tonight with Silver pricing in effect ($50-$115).
The Sabres already have 11 losses this season, 10 in regulation. They didn't suffer their 11th loss last year until Jan. 3 and didn't drop their 10th regulation game until Jan. 11. . . . Buffalo is one of four teams yet to play in a shootout this season. The others are Washington, Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders.