BUFFALO — After waiting a week to play a game, the Senators waited most of the night to score a goal.
It was worth the wait, as Erik Karlsson’s goal in the final two minutes of the third period gave Ottawa a 1-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in the Senators’ first game of the season.
So much for Craig Anderson and Ryan Miller not thinking about the U.S. Olympic team.
If this was an audition for Sochi selectors, and Anderson of the Senators and Miller of the Sabres both made a strong pitch. Against the other team’s best — Jason Spezza and Bobby Ryan for Ottawa and Thomas Vanek of the Sabres — Miller and Anderson were at their best.
Vanek and Spezza each suffered heartache after being robbed of what seemed like sure goals. So spectacular were Miller and Anderson that longtime NHL coach and broadcaster Harry Neale spotted Senators goalie coach Rick Wamsley after a scoreless 40 minutes and cracked: “You must be coaching both goalies.”
After an entertaining first period, in which the Senators tested Miller 23 times, both benches were anxious to break the deadlock. No line was pushing harder than Ottawa’s top trio of Jason Spezza, Bobby Ryan and Milan Michalek, together in a regular season game for the first time.
Ryan was involved, taking a couple of minor penalties and firing shots on goal every chance he had, even from long range.
It was a strange game, a little unfamiliar to those who have been watching Sabres-Senators hockey for a long time. Maybe it had something to do with the missing persons. Namely, Lindy Ruff and Daniel Alfredsson.
This was the Sabres’ first home opener without Ruff behind the bench since 1997. And the Ron Rolston-coached Buffalo team was facing a Senators club that has had Alfredsson on the roster since the fall of 1995.
Different times. Both teams are embarking on a journey — the Sabres in the early stages of a massive rebuild and the Senators, under new captain Spezza, trying to show that learned enough from old No. 11 to carry on contending without him.
Both the Sabres and Senators were guilty of admiring the goalie show for the first 20 minutes, as Miller and Anderson took turns making routine saves, with occasional gusts to the spectacular.
Most notable was a sliding pad save by Anderson to rob Bryan Flynn, who was driving to the net with a pass from Mikhail Grigorenko, one of three teenagers in the Sabres lineup.
Anderson also stopped Buffalo captain Thomas Vanek, twice, in close.
Ottawa’s best early chance came on the game’s first power play with Tyler Ennis off for hooking. Defenceman Patrick Wiercioch cranked a slapshot off the far post.
Ottawa outshot the hosts 23-16 in the first period, with nothing to show for it.
The combined 39 shots were the most by two teams in a scoreless first period in any game since the NHL expanded from the Original Six. Yes, that long.
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