BUFFALO — No Alfie, no problem.
With the confirmation that they won’t have the services of captain Daniel Alfredsson for the next 4-6 weeks due to a separated shoulder, the Senators got shootout goals from Alex Kovalev and Mike Fisher to beat the Sabres 3-2 last night.
The Ottawa win spoiled what was otherwise a superb 38-save performance (including 19 in the first period) by Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, who appears to have all but cemented the No. 1 job for the U.S. at the Olympics.
Wingers Chris Neil and Ryan Shannon beat Miller in the second period for the Senators, who continued their mastery of the Sabres by boosting their record to 9-1-1 in the last 11 matchups between the clubs.
Senators goalie Pascal Leclaire, with 20 saves, wasn’t nearly as busy as Miller, but it was a nice bounce-back effort after Wednesday’s 8-2 loss in Pittsburgh in which he allowed six goals in two periods.
“We stuck with it and we had a good team game and found a way to win. That’s what we’re going to have to do,” said Fisher. “We had a great first period and Miller kept them in the game. That’s a good team. To get the two points is a good win for us.”
With Alfredsson, Jason Spezza (knee) and Nick Foligno (knee) all sidelined, coach Cory Clouston was forced to mix and match lines. He placed Shannon with Kovalev and Fisher, while Milan Michalek skated with Peter Regin and Neil.
“It was just a real good road game. After the first period, we felt we could have been up a couple of goals, but I thought we showed a lot of character going into the third period after giving up the lead,” said Clouston. “We played a really solid third and it was nice to get the win.”
The Senators looked like they were going to escape with a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes, but Thomas Vanek cut the lead to one goal. He fired a bullet from the circle by Leclaire at 17:15 to snap a 106:45 goal-less drought against Ottawa that dated back to Nov. 21.
Then, with Chris Campoli off for tripping, Jason Pominville tied the game on the power play at 19:18 with a slap shot from the top of the circle that bounced off Anton Volchenkov’s skate and by Leclaire.
After outshooting the Sabres 19-1 in the first period, the Senators had to wonder if they were ever going to score on Miller, but they finally struck with two goals in a span of 50 seconds in the second period.
Neil’s fifth of the season at 6:05 was the result of his willingness to go to the front of the net. Though Miller made the initial save on a shot from Volchenkov, Neil was parked in front and slipped it through the goalie’s legs.
Perhaps, the most relieved guy in the building was Shannon. He tipped a pass from Kovalev that bounced off of defenceman Steve Montador’s chest and by Miller on the stick side. It was Shannon’s first of the season and ended a 36-game drought that stretched back to March 29.
“It’s kind of funny that was the one that went in after all of the chances I’ve had,” said Shannon.
Leclaire couldn’t complain about being overworked in the first period. Not only did the Senators outshoot the Sabres by a 19-1 count, Leclaire didn’t have to stop his first shot until Montador fired one on net with 2:35 to go. A loud, sarcastic cheer went up.
It’s only the ninth time in team history the Senators have held a team to one shot in a period, the last time being Oct. 5, 2005 against the Leafs.
“With the key guys missing, we all knew we had to step up a bit,” said Leclaire. “Everybody goes through it, but you to raise your game a bit to have success. We just want to make sure we’re in good shape when those guys come back. It’s up to us play well right now. That was a good effort against a playoff team.”
The Senators open a four-game homestand tomorrow at Scotiabank Place against the Canadiens at 7:30 p.m.