Senators regain first in Northeast


The Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders shared the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum with a dog show Sunday.


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UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders shared the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum with a dog show Sunday.

Perhaps that helped explain the dog’s breakfast of a game.

Or maybe, just maybe, the reason for the uneven performance was because both National Hockey League teams were playing their final games before the Olympic break.

The Senators had control, gave the game back to the Islanders in the second period with uninspired play in front of both nets and then rallied to victory with a three-goal third period to win 4-3. The comeback began with the Senators killing off a two-man disadvantage.

Mike Fisher, Jason Spezza and Alex Kovalev erased the Islanders’ 3-1 lead, allowing the Senators to leapfrog past the Buffalo Sabres into top spot in the NHL’s Northeast Division standings.

Until the third period, it appeared the Senators would head into the break on a two-game losing streak, having been soundly outplayed in Saturday’s 4-1 loss against the Detroit Red Wings.

Instead, the comeback allows the Senators to start vacation having won 14 of 16 games, so they won’t be dwelling on negatives when they return Feb. 24 for a mini-training camp. They don’t play again until March 2 against the New York Rangers.

“I thought the first half of the game was pretty even, but, in the third period, we took over by forechecking harder and took charge,” Spezza said. “It’s great. When we come back from the break, we have five days alone with the coach and only about 15 guys on the ice, so it’s nice to have a win. We’re definitely going into the break in a good frame of mind. We also won’t be as grumpy with our spouses.”

All that said, the victory was hardly a thing of beauty.

In the second period, the Senators minds appeared elsewhere, with defenceman Filip Kuba heading the long list of players who fumbled the puck.

The Islanders, on the other hand, received an inspired effort from Blake Comeau, who scored twice, including a goal late in the period to give New York its 3-1 lead.

Throughout the period, Senators goaltender Brian Elliott had little support from his defencemen and was forced to repeatedly make second and third saves because of the Senators’ inability to clear the puck.

Matt Moulson had put the Islanders ahead 2-1, jumping on a puck that Kuba and defence partner Brian Lee didn’t clear. The goal came only seconds after Kuba had been caught up ice, allowing a breakaway to Frans Nielsen, which Elliott stopped.

An apparent goal by Matt Carkner in the final minute of the second period was waved off because the referees ruled Peter Regin had interfered with New York goaltender Dwayne Roloson.

So, instead of a 3-2 game, the Islanders had a 3-1 lead and finished the period on the power play. It became a 5-on-3 when Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson was penalized for slashing.

The Senators killed those penalties off, however, and that served as the game’s turning point.

“If we don’t get that kill, I don’t think we have a chance to come back,” coach Cory Clouston said.

While the Senators are heading into the break on a hot streak, Clouston welcomes the time away from the ice, claiming the team has used up plenty of “emotional energy” during its charge up the standings.

The Islanders look like a team that has lost grasp on the hopes of a playoff spot.

Even with a 5-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday, the Islanders have only won two of their past 12 games, and they were six points out of a playoff spot before Sunday’s games.

The situation has left Islanders general manager Garth Snow in an awkward spot leading up to the March 3 trade deadline, mulling over whether to deal veterans such as forward Doug Weight, defenceman Andy Sutton and either or fellow goalie Martin Biron for draft picks.

The fan base remains apathetic.

The Islanders announced a crowd of 11,297 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, but the actual turnout was in the 6,000-7,000 range, not including the crowd at the dog show.

The Senators had the early jump on Sunday, showing far more spirit than they displayed during Saturday’s loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

When Jarkko Ruutu opened the scoring at the 6:16 mark, tying a career high with his 10th goal of the season, Ottawa owned a 7-1 lead on the shot clock. However, the Islanders managed to hang around, gaining some momentum on a power play.

Elliott was sharp throughout. Clouston thought about starting Pascal Leclaire in goal for the first time since Jan. 12, but in the end decided to stick with Elliott.

Clouston said it was felt that Leclaire would be better off with another week of practice, which he’ll get with goalie coach John Stevenson after the Olympic break.

“It’s also going to be a little easier for Pascal to start fresh with everybody else after a big break,” Clouston said.

Ottawa Citizen

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