It is pretty remarkable how far the Senators have come in just three games under rookie coach Cory Clouston.
A regulation loss.
A shootout loss.
A shootout win.
That's a pretty nice progression.
Clouston got his first NHL victory last night at Scotiabank Place with a 3-2 decision over the Buffalo Sabres -- with the Senators winning in the shootout for just the second time in seven tries this season.
The Senators' problems in the shootout -- they were 8-22 all-time after losing to the Boston Bruins Thursday night -- were addressed at the end of practice Friday.
"It was a group thing," said Clouston. "We've got to give some different looks. We can't be so predictable. There were some nice goals out there."
Ottawa's Jarkko Ruutu, Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher scored on Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller and Buffalo's Derek Roy, needing to score to keep the shootout going after Fisher scored, shot the puck over the net on the glove side of Senators goaltender Brian Elliott to end it.
People are asking: What's the difference with the Senators under Clouston?
About the easiest way to explain it is instead of backing up when they don't have the puck, they now press forward.
Of course, more aggressive forechecking and better neutral zone play doesn't really do you much good in the shootout. But Ruutu, who was at his agitating best last night (suckering Adam Mair into a penalty which led to Nick Foligno's power-play goal), scored on a beautiful fake shot, backhand move, Alfredsson went high stickside on a backhand and Fisher put a backhand through Miller's legs with a slick move.
Ales Kotalik and Tim Connolly beat Elliott, both with dekes on the backhand to the glove side.
It was a game the Senators deserved to win, much like the game against the Bruins.
"It feels good," said Clouston of his first win. "I'm real happy for the guys. They deserved that."
Clouston has got the Senators forechecking with two men, the third man in position up high, allowing the defence to stand up in the neutral zone, confident they've got help if an opponent manages to get by them. That helped the Senators to a 2-0 lead after two periods last night as they dominated for long stretches. Alfredsson said it was tough being criticized earlier this year for their less energetic play under former coach Craig Hartsburg.
'WE WERE PASSIVE'
"That was the knock on us: People were asking, 'Do they care?' We were passive," said Alfredsson. "Now we're more involved, forechecking with two guys, the defence pinching. In the second period, we had some great shifts. Everybody feeds off the energy, the hitting."
The Senators had a blip in the third and saw Adam Mair and Drew Stafford erase that 2-0 lead and send the game into overtime.
There was a downside to the Senators' victory and that was the loss of winger Chris Neil, who left the game after the last play of the second period when he appeared to re-injure his right knee when he hit Sabres defenceman Teppo Numminen. Neil missed six games when he hurt his knee Nov. 15 against the New York Islanders.
Sabres sniper Thomas Vanek's night lasted only four shifts. He left the game in the first period after getting hit in the face with a shot off the stick of Senators defenceman Anton Volchenkov.