|Ottawa Senators' goalie Brian Elliott blocks a shot against the Buffalo Sabres Wednesday. (REUTERS/Blair Gable)
OTTAWA — Without the player paid to ignite their attack, the Senators rallied with an outstanding defensive effort last night.
In doing so, they managed to extinguish one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
Alex Picard’s first-period goal became the winner as Brian Elliott turned back 22 shots to gain his third career shutout and second of the season, this one a 2-0 blanking of the Buffalo Sabres.
Mike Fisher sealed the deal banking a shot in off the post with 1:36 left in the third.
“All over the ice, we were just buzzing around and they really didn’t have anything in the first period,” said Elliott. “(Ryan) Miller was making some big saves at the other end and when it comes down to it, you have to make those big saves for your team.
“All the guys, especially defensively, we just kept everything to the outside. When all they have is shots from the boards, that makes it a lot easier on me.”
The Sens moved to within four points of Northeast Division-leading Buffalo in front of 16,917 at Scotiabank Place.
With Jason Spezza missing the first of an expected 6-8 weeks worth of games recovering from a knee injury, the Senators continued their domination of Buffalo, a team they own a 22-6-4 record against since 2005-06.
The Senators’ penalty killers were stars throughout, especially coming up large on back-to- back infractions by Chris Kelly and Jarkku Ruutu midway through the third.
Jesse Winchester did not at all look out of place subbing for Spezza on the first line, between Milan Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson.
“Just because we’re missing some key guys we don’t want to try and step up and do too much, either. Just stick to our good team game,” said Fisher. “Winny stepped in on the top line and played really well. (Josh) Hennessy and Kelly’s line played really solid. That’s exactly what we need. Doesn’t matter how we do it. It wasn’t pretty at times, or entertaining, but we got the job done.”
Miller was both good and lucky in keeping the Senators to a 1-0 lead after the first.
Harmless looking is probably the best way to describe Alex Picard’s low wrister from the top of the left wing circle, although surely a factor in its finding the way to mesh was the distraction caused by Jonathan Cheechoo as he battled with Sabres defenceman Andrej Sekera in front.
Ottawa’s penalty killing was put to the test early in the second period when Ruutu was given a boarding major for his hit on fellow pest Patrick Kaleta. The Senators survived, thanks in part to Tim Connolly’s slashing minor during the ensuing power play. Senators coach Cory Clouston had to wonder why Adam Mair didn’t also get called for a stick indiscretion when, as he skated across the Ottawa blue line without the puck, he stuck Erik Karlsson in the side of the head with his stick.
“I’m just not going to single out one guy. That was a great team effort,” said Clouston. “To single one individual or two just wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the guys. Everybody played their role. Everybody did their jobs.”
The Senators are in New Jersey tomorrow night, then return home to host Minnesota Saturday.