Solid play from the Ottawa Senators was book-ended by Buffalo Sabres dominance, but Ottawa took advantage of their chances and ended up winning the game by a 5-3 score. The Sabres outshot Ottawa 17-8 in the first period and spent six of the last eight minutes of the game on the powerplay, but didn't get the results they needed. When the Senators had the momentum through the second period and the first half of the third, they put five past Sabres goaltender Patrick Lalime.
The first period was... forgettable for the Senators. It was ugly, especially an early-game powerplay where they had no shots on goal. But thanks to some strong play by Pascal Leclaire, they escaped with only a one goal deficit. A couple goals in a dominant second period, and a goal-filled third period followed. Then it got interesting, when Patrick Kaleta and Jason Pominville scored back-to-back 93 seconds apart, and the Sens played a well-known penalty-ridden tune. Matt Carkner was sent off for boarding, and Chris Neil took the dumbest penalty of the season (which doubled the minor he'd already been assessed to earn him... umm... a double-minor). Strong short-handed goaltending by Brian Elliott, penalty-killing pressure from Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher, and some great defence from Filip Kuba got Ottawa through it, though.
In fact, Kuba looked like Ottawa's best defenceman for the first time this season in the game against the Sabres. Obviously, four points--including his first goal of the season on the powerplay and three assists--goes a long way, but he added more than that, especially on the defensive side of the puck. He spent more time on special teams than at even strength, including 7:43 while shorthanded, and was a huge reason the Senators held the Sabres to 1-for-7 on the powerplay tonight.
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On offence, Milan Michalek was killing it tonight. I was a little sceptical of seeing him in front of the net on the powerplay at first, but he's a big body, and his presence there makes things happen offensively. That's where he was for his goal (after a slick pass from Kuba), which turned out to be the game-winner, and he got most of his six shots of the night from within feet of the Buffalo crease.
Just as impressive, though, was Alfredsson. Unlike some Senators, he brought his intensity from that start of the game, and kept it up for the whole thing. He had two goals, an assist, and fours shots on net--plus he shot about a thousand wide while the Senators were on the powerplay in the second period.
Mid-way through the second, a Sabre was knocked overtop of Leclaire, knocking his head to his knee and his helmet off. He was down for a while, but finished out the period--and then was replaced by Elliott for the third period. It's unclear what the extent of the injury is right now, although according to Twitter, coach Cory Clouston said he was going to be fine. Given his history, I hope he will be.
Although he only had one assist on the night, Fisher deserves a ton of credit, too. He was, obviously, instrumental to the team's penalty-killing success, and had more penalty-killing ice time (6:20) than any other forward. Most impressive was his dominance in the faceoff circle, where he went 15-for-22 (68 percent) against some of the NHL's strongest drawmen, including some very important wins while the Sens were on the powerplay.
Oh, and be honest: Were you more surprised when you thought Carkner scored, or when you found out that Chris Kelly had tipped it in?
Despite a bit of a scare late in the third, the Senators have won three in a row, outscoring their opponents 14-7 in the process, and have jumped up to second in the Northeast Division. Good place to be, but there's still a long road ahead.