Senators get back in stride

 

BUFFALO - Patrick Lalime won't fondly remember his 400th game in the NHL. Only in his nightmares.

 
 
 

BUFFALO - Patrick Lalime won't fondly remember his 400th game in the NHL. Only in his nightmares.

The Ottawa Senators might, but only if it proves to be the catalyst got their season back on the right track.

If it is merely a false dawn, though, like a 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 5 apparently was, then it will be just puzzling moment in the saga of the 2008-09 Senators.

However, to give them the benefit of the doubt, last night's thorough 5-2 victory against Lalime, their former teammate, and the Buffalo Sabres was a welcome tonic after a four-game losing streak and the Senators' worst start since the 1994-95 National Hockey League season.

If nothing else, the victory will guarantee the Senators a warm welcome today at owner Eugene Melnyk's horse ranch in Ocala, Florida. They might have wanted to stay on the plane if they had arrived trailing a five-game losing streak.

For a few days, though, everyone from general manager Bryan Murray on down can breathe easier after handing the Sabres their first loss in regulation time this season.

"It's always nice to go see the owner with a win under your belt," said Senators centre Jason Spezza, the game's first star with two goals and one assist.

"You don't want to be going there with a loss. It's frustrating when you lose a few in a road and we knew we had to have a good one (last night)."

Christoph Schubert added a power-play goal, Dany Heatley had a power-play goal and an assist, Shean Donovan got his third of the season and Daniel Alfredsson collected two assists for the Senators (3-5-1).

Clarke MacArthur spoiled Alex Auld's shutout bid at 14:37 of the third period with the Sabres enjoying a two-man advantage. Derek Roy made it 5-2 when he deflected a shot from Teppo Numminen with just 32 seconds remaining.

Auld has now lost two potential shutouts in the closing moments. He lost the first one in Stockholm in victory against the Penguins.

Last night, though, he wasn't complaining.

"This was a huge win for us," Auld said. "At that point (of MacArthur's goal), it's gravy, it's just a bonus, especially against a team like this that's off to such a good start.

"It's a huge boost. We played a lot of the game the way we wanted to play, and showed when we play that way, we can not only win games, but control games for the most part. Other than a few penalties at the end, we were able to do a lot of things we wanted to do. We were very good (last night) and it's good timing for us."

Senators coach Craig Hartsburg resisted the urge to celebrate. He cautioned, with good reason, that it is only one win.

"I don't think this is a relief," he said. "It's never a relief to win. We knew we had to tighten up some things and we did a good job for the most part. There are still a lot of steps to take, but this was a good step forward."

Emotions ran high, especially between Buffalo's Adam Mair and Ottawa's Chris Neil.

After Neil, Mair, the Senators' Jarkko Ruutu and the Sabres' Patrick Kaleta got kicked out of the game at 18:12 of the third, Mair came down the hallway near the Ottawa dressing room, still in uniform, calling for Neil.

Ruutu went out and a scuffle started. It was quickly broken up, but the episode could lead to suspensions or fines. It didn't help that the incident was caught on TV or that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in the building.

Hartsburg began the game with reshuffled lines, trying to sort out some way to get offensive production from anybody. Antoine Vermette was with Spezza and Heatley, Mike Fisher was with Alfredsson and Nick Foligno, Chris Kelly was with Neil and Ruutu, and Jesse Winchester was bumped to the fourth line with Dean McAmmond and Donovan.

It worked, even if most of the production was from the usual suspects.

Their play through an entertaining first period was an indication that the Senators have at least started to get the message that Hartsburg has been preaching. They were on top of the play, tighter defensively, and more competitive than they had been for some time.

Their work eventually paid off 1:54 from the end of the period when, with Mair off for elbowing, Schubert beat Lalime to the top right corner with a shot from the slot.

A bad clearing pass by Sabres defenceman Jaroslav Spacek had put the puck on Schubert's stick in the slot.

The Senators broke the game open early in the second.With Maxim Afinogenov still serving an unsportsmanlike penalty from the first, Spezza needed just 19 seconds to find Heatley with a pass, and his quick shot beat Lalime to the stick side.

Just over four minutes later, after serving two minutes when the Senators were caught with too many men on the ice, Spezza emerged from the penalty box and was sent in alone thanks to a nice play by Vermette.

Vermette thumped Roy and separated him from the puck. He quickly passed to Spezza, who raced in, pulled Lalime and then put a shot over the fallen goalie. Less than two minutes before the period ended, Spezza got his second of the game, making it 4-0.

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Citizen Three Stars

1. Jason Spezza, Ottawa

2. Alex Auld, Ottawa

3. Christoph Schubert, Ottawa

Attendance: 18,690 (18,690 capacity)

Senators' grade: 9 out of 10

Next Senators game: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. at Sunrise, Florida, against the Florida Panthers. TV: No local coverage. Radio: Team 1200 AM, Radio 104.7 FM, 88.1 FM (Perth), Star 96.7 FM (Pembroke), AM 1220 (Cornwall), KIX 93.5 FM (Watertown), CIGM Sudbury, CKAT North Bay.

 
 
 
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