Say it isn't so, Joe

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:38 PM ET

The Senators' blue line took a major hit last night.

Defenceman Joe Corvo will be out indefinitely after breaking his right foot in the dying minutes of Ottawa's 4-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres last night.

Corvo, who the Senators plucked out of the free-agent market and signed to a four-year, $10.5-million contract, blocked a shot from Ales Kotalik late in the third period and left the ice immediately.

Corvo, who is being relied on heavily to help fill the void caused by the departure of Zdeno Chara, won't be ready for the Oct. 4 regular season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

The Senators have eight blueliners in camp, including Christoph Schubert, who has yet to skate during the pre-season because of a mysterious virus.

"(Corvo) was just doing what competitive people do by blocking the shot in that situation," said Senators coach Bryan Murray. "It's really disappointing anytime you lose somebody, but especially in this situation. I don't know how long it's going to be and it would only be speculation on my part.

"When it's good enough to return, he'll be back."

The news about Corvo dampened a strong performance by winger Denis Hamel, who scored a natural hat trick. But it wasn't enough to prevent the Senators from dropping their second straight of the pre-season.

While Tomas Vanek also scored three goals to hand the Senators the loss, it was Hamel who stole the show.

"A lot of guys had better watch out for him," said Murray. "There's no question he's making a case for himself. He's a natural goal scorer."

The 29-year-old Hamel, who scored 56 goals with the Senators' AHL affiliate in Binghamton last season, is well aware this is his last chance to make the NHL.

Murray and GM John Muckler will have a tough time keeping him off the roster if he continues scoring at this pace.

This wasn't just any old three-goal night, either. Hamel scored one at even strength, one on the power play and completed the hat trick with a shorthanded effort.

Buffalo goalie Martin Biron should have gotten the message by the time Hamel fired home his third in a span of 3:22 in the second period to give Ottawa a short-lived 3-2 lead. All three goals beat Biron high on the glove side.

"I came here and I wanted to make it tough on the GM and the coach when it came time to make decisions at the end of camp," said Hamel. "That felt good for me (last) night, but I also made some mistakes. I have to keep getting better and showing I belong."

Senators goaltender Ray Emery, who was beaten twice by Vanek and once by Chris Drury, allowed three goals on 25 shots before leaving two periods. Kelly Guard took over for the final frame, when Vanek scored the winner at the 9:19 mark -- his third of the night.

The Sabres lost winger Maxim Afinogenov with quad injury when he took what appeared to be a knee from Jason Spezza at 11:44 of the first. Spezza was sent to the box for interference and had a short discussion with referee Chris Rooney at the end of the period.

"(Spezza) did stick his leg out," said Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff. "Whether it was knee or not is debatable. It's a tough play and tough to judge. It's kind of a natural instinct in that situation to do that."

The Senators continue their stretch of four games in four nights when they face the Philadelphia Flyers tonight at the Wachovia Center.

Game time is 7 p.m.


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