Leclaire injured in Senators’ victory over Sabres
To borrow from Satchel Paige, the Buffalo Sabres shouldn’t look back.
OTTAWA — To borrow from Satchel Paige, the Buffalo Sabres shouldn’t look back.
Something might be gaining on them.
The “something” is the Ottawa Senators, now just one point behind the Northeast Division leaders after handling the Sabres 5-3 at Scotiabank Place on Saturday night.
The Senators have won three straight for the first time this season; for the Sabres it’s their first three-game losing streak.
In the dressing room, the usual joyous mood from having whipped Pittsburgh and Buffalo in consecutive games was tempered by the loss of starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire to a lower-body injury.
Leclaire was hurt in the second period when Buffalo’s Jochen Hecht fell on him in a goalmouth scramble. Slow to get to his feet, Leclaire finished the period but did not return for the third period as backup Brian Elliott stepped in.
Senators head coach Cory Clouston said afterward Leclaire was “sore” but did not say which part of Leclaire’s “lower body” was injured. Acquired last spring from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Leclaire missed almost all of last season after ankle surgery.
Elliott said his heart was racing when he was called upon, but a 2-1 Ottawa lead became 5-1 before a couple of Sabres goals, and a four-minute penalty to Chris Neil, added some late drama.
The Senators rallied around Elliott — and Neil — to kill off the double-minor for slashing and cross-checking, on a night when Ottawa shut down six of seven Sabre power plays.
In the first meeting of the season between the division rivals, Daniel Alfredsson led the Senators with two goals and an assist against former Ottawa goaltender Patrick Lalime, as USA Olympic hopeful Ryan Miller was given the night off.
The rout was reminiscent of Lalime’s first return visit last March, when the Senators pumped six past him in a 6-3 victory.
Fans here resent the Leafs and Canadiens supporters in the house, but for many Ottawa players the Sabres are the biggest rival. Like the Leafs, the Sabres have met the Senators four times in the playoffs, but much more recently — in 2006 and 2007. Overall, the Sabres have won three of the four playoff series, but the Senators upset Buffalo in the ’07 Eastern Conference final en route to the Stanley Cup final.
Through it all, the teams have engaged in memorable brawls and the controversial Neil hit on Chris Drury, the Jason Pominville and Alfredsson playoff overtime winners, but since the lockout a clear pattern has emerged. In the regular season, the Senators have owned the Sabres, winning 21 of 31 games (21-6-4).
In the past four seasons, Ottawa has gone 5-1-2, 5-2-1, 5-2-1 and 5-1-0 in the season series and has won nine of the past 11 meetings.
Over the last couple of indifferent years, the Senators have had tough times against some mediocre opponents. But with Buffalo? It’s usually game on.
“It’s a big rivalry for us,” says Senators centre Jason Spezza. “They’ve beaten us in the playoffs. We’ve beaten them in the playoffs. When you play each other so much you get a good hate on for the other team.”
In a sleepy first period, the Senators looked like the team that played an overtime game the previous night, instead of the Sabres. Buffalo embarrassed the home team by outshooting Ottawa 17-5, finally opening the scoring on a power-play goal by Thomas Vanek at 19:09.
The Senators took it as a wake-up call, charging the Sabres net on the first shift of the second period. Mike Fisher caused Henrik Tallinder to take a hooking penalty and Ottawa scored on the ensuing power play, Filip Kuba’s first of the year.
Alfredsson gave the Senators a 2-1 lead after floating a wrist shot past Lalime at 8:14 of the second period, but the Sabres were content to have survived a five-on-three power play by Ottawa for more than a minute.
Third period goals by Chris Kelly and Milan Michalek, his team-leading 10th, helped Elliott survive late Buffalo goals by Patrick Kaleta and Pominville.
Another happy home finish, except for the nagging worry that the oft-injured Leclaire has suffered his first physical setback with his new team.