BUFFALO, N.Y. - Before his Ottawa Senators opened the season, coach Paul MacLean wasn't quite sure what identity his team would have.
If the previous two seasons were a good indication, the Senators will be a defensive-minded team that relies heavily on its goaltending. The lock-down defence wasn't there Friday night, but they did lean on Craig Anderson against the Buffalo Sabres.
Anderson was more than up to the task, making 35 saves in the Senators' 1-0 victory over the Sabres at First Niagara Center.
Erik Karlsson scored the game-winner for the Senators, beating Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller on the game's 80th shot. Clarke MacArthur delivered a perfect pass to the former Norris Trophy-winner for his goal, which came with 1:35 remaining.
Miller, who finished with 45 saves, had almost no chance of stopping Karlsson's shot. Anderson needed to be solid in the waning seconds to pick up his 23rd career shutout.
Until the final buzzer, Anderson and Miller put on a spectacle that was more enthralling than the pre-game laser-light show to mark the Sabres' home opener. Fans roared stops at either end as the U.S. Olympic hopefuls seemed to one-up each other as the game went on.
Right after Miller gloved a shot from Bobby Ryan, who was making his Senators debut, Anderson got his left pad out to rob Sabres co-captain Thomas Vanek. Not too long after, he made a point-blank save on Brian Flynn, who was hurdling toward the crease.
Anderson's most memorable save came at the 16:42 mark of the second period, when he slid across the crease and got his body in front of Vanek's shot on a two-on-one rush. Naturally, Miller stopped Ottawa captain Jason Spezza a few seconds later.
The goaltenders were tested early and often thanks to four penalty calls in the first eight minutes. Zone time on the power play and some nifty passing didn't mean much given how locked in Anderson and Miller were.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 39 combined shots the Senators and Sabres put on net in the first frame set a record for the most in a scoreless period in the NHL's expansion era, which dates to 1967.
Anderson made 25 saves through two periods to Miller's 35, though it was Karlsson who had the arguably the most important stop in the third period for the Senators. Karlsson, much better known as Ottawa's offensive spark than a shutdown defenceman, went full-extension along the ice to interrupt another strong scoring chance by Vanek.
Of course every shutout requires some breaks. Anderson got one midway through the second period when Steve Ott whiffed on an opportunity with the net wide open.