UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Ottawa spent a Monday afternoon matinee against the New York Islanders emphatically answering any questions about the effects of a four-day break.
In fact, the Senators sucked the air out of a hopeful Nassau Coliseum crowd – on hand to see if the Islanders could close the six-point gap between them and the eighth-place Toronto Maple Leafs – before many of them had time to find their seats in a 6-0 rout of the Islanders.
Ottawa led 2-0 after just 1:35 through goals by Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza, sending Isles starter Kevin Poulin to the bench in just 95 seconds. The Senators (31-22-8) wound up getting two goals and two assists from Karlsson, the NHL's highest-scoring defenseman, and two goals from Spezza.
"Six-to-nothing. That sums it up pretty well," said Senators coach Paul MacLean when asked about the effects of a four-day break, one that included two complete days off the ice, this late in the season.
"I thought our team was really ready to play. Scoring in the first minutes, getting two goals in the first 90 seconds, was good. It was a good sign of our preparation and our willingness to compete today against a team that we knew was going to be able to skate real well. ... We were very pleased with how we started and how we ended."
The Senators finished with four goals from their defense, as Chris Phillips and Brian Lee also scored to support Craig Anderson's third shutout of the season. Anderson was rarely tested while stopping 28 shots, but the goalie said his defense deserved much of the credit.
"Allowing me to see the puck, that's huge," Anderson said. "When a goalie can see the puck, he's going to stop most times than not."
Ottawa improved to 4-0-1 in its last five games and moved within one point of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the conference standings. The Senators lead eighth-place Toronto by six points.
Meanwhile, the Islanders fell to 25-26-8 – still six points behind the Leafs and in 12th place – and continued their prolonged stretch without back-to-back wins. The last time New York won two in a row was Jan. 19-21.
"Obviously, we didn't have a good start," center Josh Bailey said. "We were not on our game, and that's what happens when you're not on your game teams are fired up and ready to play. You're not going to come out on the winning end if you play the way we did tonight."
Off since a 6-2 win against Florida on Wednesday, the Senators felt no ill effects from their four-day break. In fact, it was 1-0 after just 68 seconds.
A poor clearing attempt from the Islanders was intercepted at the blue line by Karlsson, who skated down the right side to the goal line and threw the puck off Poulin and into the net at 1:08. The goal was Karlsson's 11th of the season.
Twenty-seven seconds later during a delayed penalty, Spezza made it 2-0 when fired a one-timer past Poulin from the right hash marks for his 26th of the season. Seconds before, Poulin was clumsy in his attempted poke-check of Chris Neil, tripping him and allowing Ottawa to take advantage. Nick Foligno picked up the puck behind the net and passed out to a waiting Spezza, who made no mistake.
"It was nice we got two days to actually rest," said Spezza, after extending his points streak to six games, during which he has seven goals and 15 points. "We had two hard days of practice mixed in there, but not many teams get that at this point in the year. That's the advantage of us playing so many games early."
Added Karlsson: "Coach has been nice to us giving us some complete days off, and we wanted to show him that we want more of those."
Poulin, back in net after a 33-save performance Saturday in a 4-3 win against Carolina, could not repeat and was pulled after conceding two goals on five shots.
Later in the first, Karlsson struck again to make it 3-0. Just after Ottawa's first power play expired, Sergei Gonchar passed down the right boards to Daniel Alfredsson, who laid a perfect pass in between the circles for Karlsson to snap past Montoya at 14:03.
The second period brought more frustrations for the Isles faithful. The Senators were constantly threatening, and Phillips made it 4-0 at 9:37. Seventeen seconds after Steve Staios went to the box for delay of game, Gonchar crossed to Kyle Turris, who laid it off for Phillips to fire high past Montoya for his third of the season.
The Isles threatened in the third period, tallying the first nine shots and testing Anderson on a couple of occasions. His best stop came on Matt Martin from point-blank range after a giveaway.
Midway through the period, Lee scored his first of the season when his point shot off a swing pass from Karlsson flew past Montoya's glove at 9:49. Spezza made it 6-0 off another incisive Karlsson pass, collecting in the left circle and roofing it for his 27th of the year on the power play at 10:57. Spezza now has seven goals in his last five games.
"That was one of our better ones for sure," Phillips said. "Coming in after the break, it's a strong focus – teams starting to play playoff hockey, everybody's raising their level of play."
The Islanders will try to revive their playoffs hopes once again when they face Buffalo on Tuesday.
"We can't just have our heads hanging," said captain Mark Streit when asked about the quick turnaround. "We know we have to come back strong. It's the time of the year when you have to turn the page and be ready tomorrow.
"It's a perfect thing. You don't want to have that feeling (of losing) for another two or three days."