Ottawa, we have a problem.
Playing without their injured captain, Daniel Alfredsson, the Senators failed to hang on to three separate leads in a 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Place on Saturday night.
It was the third straight loss for the suddenly struggling Senators — and an impressive rebound victory for the Flyers, now 13-7-2. Philadelphia got a goal and two assists from Danny Briere and a 29-save effort from backup netminder Antero Niittymaki, who was splendid in a rare appearance.
Briere has been magnificent as of late, despite the fact that his linemate, Simon Gagne, has missed 12 of the past 14 games with a concussion. Briere has picked up the slack with six goals and six assists in his last eight games.
Briere’s goal at 13:11 of the second period ( 700K ) — when he redirected a feed from Scott Hartnell past Senators’ goalie Ray Emery — broke a 3-3 tie. Niittymaki stopped all 10 shots he faced in the third period to secure the victory.
''For myself, it's been kind of a roller coaster this season — especially since Simon Gagne went down, it's been tough,'' Briere said. ''I've been switching lines left and right, but the last few games it seems to be clicking. That winning goal was a perfect example. It was probably my easiest goal of the year.''
Ottawa appeared to be in good shape after the first period, when it went to the locker room leading 2-1. Wade Redden gave the Sens a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal 6:31 into the game ( 700K ), and Dany Heatley gave his team another lead ( 700K ) before the intermission after R.J. Umberger had tied things up ( 700K ) for Philadelphia.
Things went back-and-forth in the second period. Scott Hartnell made it a 2-2 game less than a minute into the period ( 700K ), but the Senators took their third lead of the night when Christoph Schubert’s shot hit Niittymaki’s pads and went into the net ( 700K ) to make it 3-2.
''Anytime you see a goal like that, you want to get the puck to the net as much as possible,'' Ottawa forward Chris Kelly said. ''I don't think we got there as much as we should have.''
Indeed they did not, as the Flyers took control and got goals from Mike Richards ( 700K ) and Briere to take their first lead of the game. Philadelphia outshot the Senators 19-10 in the middle period.
“We slowed them down on the forecheck, and Niitty made some big saves when he had to,” said Richards, whose goal prompted Ottawa coach John Paddock to pull Martin Gerber (three goals on 25 shots) in favor of Emery. “Our special teams was good. Overall, it was a good game for us.”
The Senators huffed and puffed in the third period, but failed to get one past Niittymaki and ultimately dropped to 16-5-1 on the season after a 13-2-0 stars. Ottawa failed to capitalize despite being handed three power plays in the last 20 minutes.
''They're a lot different than last year,'' Kelly said of the Flyers, who finished last overall in 2006-07 but are among the NHL’s most improved teams this season. ''They skate up and down hard, get the puck to the net and they capitalized on their chances more than we did. We definitely didn't get as many pucks to the net as we should have.''
The Senators will try to break their slide on Wednesday night, when they face the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. Ottawa has not dropped back-to-back games in regulation since last December. The second loss of this current slump was a 6-5 shootout decision against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thanksgiving night.
''I'm not overly concerned,” Paddock said of the Sens’ recent struggles. “You don't go from all those wins and the best winning percentage to all of a sudden being bad.''
But the Senators don’t look like the same team that got off to the hottest start in the NHL this season.
"We're struggling as a team," center Mike Fisher said. "We're not playing well, especially defensively in our own zone. We're a good team and we just have to play a full 60 minutes. We have to get our hunger back."
Meanwhile, the Flyers bounced back nicely after dropping a 4-3 overtime decision to the Washington Capitals Friday afternoon at the Wachovia Center. Richards attributed much of Philadelphia’s early-season success to team chemistry.
“The biggest thing is the team’s success,” Richards said. “Everyone’s playing well right now. It’s exciting to be at the rink. We’ve got a great group of guys. It’s much easier to come and play when everyone gets along.”
While Briere continues to enjoy plenty of success in the opposition’s end, Richards believes the Flyers’ top forward doesn’t get nearly as much recognition as he deserves for his play in both ends.
“He’s obviously a great offensive player, but I think he’s underestimated by his defense,” Richards said of Briere. “His faceoffs are great. He’s always in the right position, and he just leads by example on the ice.”
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media were used it this report.