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Senators, Sabres complete a role reversal

Friday, 11.16.2007 / 9:00 AM / Columns

By John Kreiser - Columnist

The Ottawa Senators have won all 13  games this year when they have scored
first, while the Buffalo Sabres have been
shutout three times so far this season.
The Ottawa Senators beat the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night, just as they did on Nov. 15 a year ago. That’s about the only similarity between this year and last for the two teams.

A year ago, the Senators were trying to figure out what was going wrong -- even after their 4-2 victory over the Sabres, Ottawa’s 7-10-1 record was a huge disappointment. In contrast, the Sabres had the NHL’s best record at 15-2-1.

Twelve months later, there’s been a complete reversal. Ottawa beat Buffalo in the playoffs on the way to the Stanley Cup Final -- after the Sabres had won the Presidents’ Trophy. And Ottawa’s 3-2 victory over Buffalo Thursday gave the Senators a 15-2-0 record, the best in the NHL, and dropped the Sabres to 6-10-1, last in the Northeast Division and next-to-last in the Eastern Conference.

The Sabres’ biggest problem has been the inability to score. After leading the NHL with 308 goals last season, they’ve had trouble finding the net, scoring just 21 goals in their last 12 games. The Sabres had 80 goals after 17 games last season, but have just 46 at the same point in 2007-08. Buffalo has already been shut out three times this season after not being blanked at all in 2006-07.

The Sabres have now gone eight games without leading a game in regulation. Buffalo has two shootout wins in that span, but has gone 487:35 without holding a lead in regulation since its 4-2 victory in Florida on Oct. 26.

In contrast, the Senators have been held to less than three goals just three times this season -- even though they were without No. 1 center Jason Spezza for six games before he returned Thursday night. But Ottawa’s biggest improvement has been defensive: The Senators have cut their goals-against from 52 a year ago to 34 this season, a reduction of slightly more than a goal a game.

One more reason for the change in fortunes is the way the two teams start the game. Ottawa has scored the first goal in 13 of its 17 games and won all 13. Buffalo has allowed the first goal in 14 consecutive games, going 5-8-1.

Empty-net man -- It’s not even Thanksgiving, but Daniel Alfredsson already has set an Ottawa record with four empty-net goals, matching the mark set by Dany Heatley last season. But the Ottawa captain has a long way to go to catch NHL record-holder Pavel Bure. “The Russian Rocket” scored nine of his 58 goals into an empty net in 1999-2000 while playing with Florida.

Here, there and everywhere -- No matter where he goes, Jaromir Jagr knows how to score. Jagr had a goal Wednesday night in the New York Rangers’ 4-2 victory over New Jersey at the Prudential Center, the Devils’ new home. It was the 53rd NHL arena in which he’s scored a goal, an NHL record. He broke a tie with teammate Brendan Shanahan as well as Colorado’s Joe Sakic, retired stars Brett Hull and Steve Yzerman, and Teemu Selanne, who’s debating whether to play again. Unless he does, Shanahan is likely the only one of the five who’ll have a chance to catch Jagr this season; Sakic’s Colorado Avalanche doesn’t visit New Jersey.

Not surprisingly, Jagr has had the most success in the three arenas he’s called home: Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh (239), Madison Square Garden in New York (72) and Washington’s Verizon Center (50). He has 25 goals at the Nassau Coliseum, the most he’s scored at any visiting building.

Hanging on -- While the Detroit Red Wings are off to a terrific start, they’d be even better than 14-4-1 if they hadn’t coughed up a couple of leads. In three of the five games they’ve lost (two in regulation; one in a shootout), the Wings let 2-0 leads slip away. The latest came Tuesday night when they scored the first two goals against St. Louis, then allowed four second-period goals in a 4-3 loss.

In contrast, Buffalo is 42-0-0 in the last 42 games in which it held a two-goal lead -- 40-0-0 last season and 2-0-0 this season. In that span, the Sabres have a league-leading 11 comeback wins when trailing by two goals at any points -- nine in 2006-07 and two already this season. Dallas had the second-longest streak -- 34 games -- before blowing a 4-0 lead in a 6-5 overtime loss at Los Angeles on Saturday.

Shootouts are Duck soup -- Shootouts have been bad news for the Anaheim Ducks -- until the last two weeks.

Through the first two-plus seasons in which the NHL used the shootout to decided games tied after overtime, the Ducks were 7-19, one of the poorest showings in the NHL. That included a mark of 2-11 at Honda Center. Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere was 7-14 all-time in shootouts after losing to Nashville on Oct. 28, the Ducks’ last game of the month.

But with the arrival of the new month, the Ducks’ shootout fortunes have changed for the better. Beginning with a win over Columbus on Nov. 1, Anaheim is 3-for-3 in shootouts this month, outscoring opponents 5-0 in the breakaway competition. Giguere has stopped all seven attempts he’s faced, while both Ryan Getzlaf and Andy McDonald have scored on their last two attempts. The back-to-back successes by McDonald were especially surprising — he was 1-for-10 last season, 3-for-16 lifetime and wasn’t used by coach Randy Carlyle in the Ducks’ first three shootouts this season.


Quote of the Day

I spent a long summer thinking about that playoff series and what could have been. [The Blackhawks] ended up being the Stanley Cup champions, so we know we lost to a very good team. It's tough to know how close we were, and it motivates us for this year.

— Nashville captain Shea Weber in an interview with the Predators website