Spending nearly an entire period in the penalty box seemed like an eternity for Ottawa Senators defenceman Jason Smith.
Imagine Smith’s relief when, after his 16 minutes in penalties expired, he was finally let out midway through the third period and the Senators were on their way to securing a 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.
“Yeah, it was a long time in there,” said Smith, who was issued a rare triple-minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct after jumping Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta from behind. “It was nice to get out that’s for sure.”
Thanks to rookie Brian Elliott, who made 31 saves, and the Senators’ penalty-killing unit, which negated 11 of 12 power-play chances, Ottawa got out of Buffalo with a rare two-game winning streak.
Daniel Alfredsson had a goal and assist, while Jason Spezza and Shean Donovan also scored for Ottawa. The Senators improved to 2-1-1 under rookie coach Cory Clouston, won consecutive games for only the sixth time this season, and have an opportunity to win three in a row for the first time this year at Philadelphia on Thursday night.
“That was obviously the momentum swing for us,” Clouston said, referring to how his team prevented the Sabres from scoring with Smith in the box. “It picked our bench up, gave us a lot of momentum. It was just a great morale boost.”
It had just the opposite affect for the Sabres, whose power-play unit struggled minus it’s most effective player, Thomas Vanek, who had an NHL-leading 15 power-play goals before breaking his jaw at Ottawa on Saturday. Vanek will miss at least a month.
“It was frustrating,” said Jason Pominville, who has gone 17 games without a goal. “We couldn’t find a way. We have to be better at it.”
Ales Kotalik scored the Sabres’ lone goal, blasting in a shot from the top of the left circle during a 2-man advantage early in the third period. Buffalo, otherwise, failed to score on its 22 other power-play shots.
“It’s a step back. You can’t be happy with that,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “I didn’t think we were crisp enough.”
The Senators might have little but pride to play for over the second half of the season, but they appear to be finding their confidence under Clouston, who took over after Craig Hartsburg was fired last week.
“It’s a very upbeat locker room right now,” said Alfredsson, crediting Clouston for emphasizing a more aggressive forechecking style. “Initially, it’s been a real big lift for us. We seem to generate more momentum for ourselves.”
Spezza opened the scoring with a power-play goal six minutes in when Alfredsson’s pass through the crease deflected in of Spezza’s skate at the left post. The goal was allowed to stand after a review, even though replays appeared to show Spezza turned his skate at the last second.
Donovan, playing his first game after missing eight with a knee injury, scored midway through the second period as the Senators capitalized on a terrible giveaway by Sabres defender Mike Weber inside the Buffalo zone. Alfredsson then scored on a second-period power-play chance, blasting a shot from the right circle which trickled in just under Ryan Miller’s right arm.
Notes: The Senators kicked off a road trip in which they’ll play five games in seven days concluding at Colorado on Tuesday night. … Senators RW Chris Neil missed his first game after sustaining a rib injury against Buffalo on Saturday. … Sabres D Teppo Numminen did not play in the third period. Ruff said Numminen was not feeling well. … Senators C Chris Kelly had a goal disallowed seven minutes into the second period because teammate Jarkko Ruutu was penalized for goaltender interference for bowling over Miller in the crease before Kelly wrapped the puck into the open side. … The Sabres’ 12 power-play opportunities were the most by a team this season.