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Spezza expected to return tonight

Ottawa is getting back its playmaking center. Buffalo isn't.

Senators center Jason Spezza will return to the lineup tonight when the Sabres visit Scotiabank Place. Spezza missed the past six games with a groin injury, but he enjoyed a healthy week of practice.

The game will be Spezza's first since signing a seven-year, $49 million contract extension earlier this month. The 24-year-old has one goal and 12 assists in 10 games.

Spezza will resume his role in the middle of wingers Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson. Heatley has just one goal in the past eight games, but Alfredsson is second in the league with 13. New coach John Paddock had weighed splitting the line up.

"It's the easiest thing for Jason to slide back into," Paddock decided Wednesday in Ottawa. "The bigger question I asked myself was, 'Why split up Heatley and Alfredsson?' It's just automatic to slide [Spezza] back in there."

The Sabres, meanwhile, thought they might welcome back a center with nearly identical stats to Spezza. Tim Connolly, who's missed the past three games with a strained oblique muscle, practiced Wednesday in HSBC Arena. But he won't be ready for tonight's game.

"I'm definitely not 100 percent yet," Connolly said. "I'm just kind of day to day now. We'll go each day and see how it feels. If I'm ready to go, I'll go. If not, I'll give it another day."

Connolly is tied for the team lead with 12 points from one goal and 11 assists. He injured his abdomen on a hit late in the Nov. 5 game at Montreal.

"There's so much twisting and turning and rotating in the game, and all those moves put a strain on your oblique," Connolly said. "We've just got to wait for that point where I can go out there and play where I'm at no further risk of injuring it more."

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Spezza's return will deprive Buffalo fans of seeing a familiar name on the ice.

The Senators sent rookie Nick Foligno to Binghamton on Wednesday in order to clear a spot for Spezza. The 20-year-old Buffalo native is the son of Sabres Hall of Famer Mike Foligno.

"I knew it was a numbers game," Foligno told reporters. "There's a lot of great players on this team. It was just great to be a part of it while it lasted."

The winger scored twice in his 14 games, but his playing time was limited recently. He was scratched in two of the past five games. The first-year pro was a surprise addition to the opening night roster, and he'll get a chance to learn at the AHL level.

"I'm disappointed, but I'm looking forward to playing a lot more," Foligno said. "At [the NHL] level, everything happens so fast, and I've just got to learn to react to things that other guys are doing.

"I'm still young, and I've got a lot to learn, but it's a hard time to be let go. But I know I'll work hard and try to get back up here as soon as possible."

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Nolan Pratt is ready to play his second game with the Sabres. It's up to coach Lindy Ruff whether he will.

Pratt got through another practice Wednesday and said he's OK to get going. He injured his groin in his season debut Nov. 1 in Boston.

"Nolan's ready to play," Ruff said. "We'll make that decision [today of whether he will]. Coming off a groin whether we'll play him in back to back, we'll decide that."

The Sabres leave Ottawa right after the game and host Montreal on Friday in HSBC Arena.

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The Sabres tinkered with a new power-play line at the end of practice. They had Ales Kotalik, Clarke MacArthur and Thomas Vanek playing forward with Brian Campbell and Jaroslav Spacek at the blue line.

If they stay together during a game, Kotalik likely would take the faceoffs.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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