OTTAWA — The Ottawa Senators head into the Christmas break feeling pretty good about their game.
Thanks to a two-goal night by Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the Senators (16-18-4) beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 Monday night.
Brady Tkachuk had a goal and two assists, while Craig Anderson, who made his first start since suffering a knee injury Dec. 7, stopped a season-high 43 shots.
“Getting back in there knowing I had several practices in a row where I was able to get back in the swing of things and get the rhythm back (helped),” said Anderson. “I think the best thing is to go out there and play and not think and that was (Monday).”
Anderson made a number of highlight reel saves, but perhaps none better than the one on Evan Rodrigues in the third period while sprawled on his back.
“He looked really confident,” said Senators coach D.J. Smith. “He held us in the game and made the saves he needed to make.”
Zemgus Girgensons scored the lone goal for the Sabres (17-14-7), while Linus Ullmark made 27 saves.
The Sabres played a solid road game and there was much to like about their effort, but just couldn’t get that tying goal when it counted.
“We had good control early in the game, but we weren’t creating the net pressure that we should have out of the puck pressure that we had,” said Sabres coach Ralph Krueger. “They were opportunistic on their chances. I thought (Ullmark) played a really good game, both goalies were outstanding. It was the one bounce that went their way at the end that cost us the win, but I’m proud of the guys for what they’ve been doing here.”
With the game tied 1-1 to start the third, Pageau scored his second of the night in impressive fashion. He took a drop pass from Connor Brown and broke in on Ullmark, who made the initial save, and then jumped on a Tkachuk rebound and backhanded it in.
Tkachuk added an empty-net goal to ensure the victory with under two minutes remaining in regulation.
As good as Tkachuk and Pageau were offensively, they were just as impressive defensively as they had the heady task of shutting down Jack Eichel.
Eichel had been looking to become the first player in Sabres history to have a point in 19 consecutive games. Eichel came into the game with 32 points (16 goals, 16 assists) over his last 18 games.
“He’s a hard player to cover,” admitted Pageau. “I think our linemate, our D-men, did a great job against him. He’s obviously a talented player that cannot only create plays for himself, but for his linemates also so it’s a hard line to cover, but I think (Tkachuk) drove our line.”
Both goalies made a number of big saves in the second period, with Ullmark stopping Tyler Ennis point blank to keep it a one-goal game.
The Sabres were finally able to beat Anderson at 15:12 as Rodrigues made a backhand pass to Girgensons who tipped it over Anderson’s shoulder.
Despite being outshot 14-10 in the first period, it was the Senators who took a 1-0 lead. Tkachuk sent a great pass to Pageau who beat Ullmark with a one-timer.
The Sabres head into the break with a 1-3-1 record in their last five and while things haven’t been ideal, they remain positive.
“Any way you look at the break there can be good things and bad things,” said Jeff Skinner. “For us we’ve had a bit of a weird schedule with the Sweden trip and I think anytime you get a chance to regroup and rest your body a bit hopefully it’s going to be beneficial. Hopefully we come out of it and get on a bit of a role.”
For a team that was expected to be sitting at the bottom of the standings, the Senators have proven to be competitive and entertaining most nights. Having picked up 13 of a possible 20 points in their last ten games, Ottawa feels pretty good heading into the three-day break.
“If we play the way we want we have a chance to win,” said Pageau. “If we play run and gun or something else that’s not our game. We know what we have and we know what situation we’re in with some call-ups doing a great job. We all have to be on the same page at the start of the game and we’re doing a great job so far.”
Notes: Scott Sabourin will have to wait until after Christmas to make his return as he was forced to miss tonight's game with the flu. Sabourin has not played since Nov. 2 when he suffered a concussion after colliding with Boston’s David Backes. Buffalo was without Kyle Okposo due to illness.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2019.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press