OTTAWA - Even on a night when the Ottawa Senators turned in less than their best performance against the Buffalo Sabres, their captain still came up big.
Daniel Alfredsson, playing in his 800th career game, marked the occasion Thursday with two goals to lead the Senators to a 3-2 triumph over the Buffalo Sabres. "It was awesome," Senators right-winger Shean Donovan said of Alfredsson's performance, which helped run Ottawa's record to an NHL-best 15-2-0.
"The fans were chanting his name. He was awesome and he has been all year. He's the MVP of the league as far as I'm concerned."
The sold-out crowd of 19,279 gave him a standing ovation and chanted "Alfie, Alfie," in salute to the franchise leader in games played. Alfredsson was named the game's first star for his efforts.
"I got a great response from the crowd and I really appreciated that,"
Alfredsson said. "And obviously it's fun when you can win games when you get to meet a number like that."
Alfredsson had the opening goal of the contest and added another before the first period was over to give him 15 for the season - tied with Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk for most in the NHL.
"A 3-2 game, every goal's important and he obviously got a couple of key ones to get us started," Senators coach John Paddock said. "He was his usual outstanding self."
Donovan scored the eventual winner for first-overall Ottawa, which won for the second straight game and 10th time in its past 11 outings in front of a crowd at sold-out Scotiabank Place.
The Senators were sloppy defensively, at times were outskated and were outshot 37-34 by the Sabres, but still managed to the NHL record for fewest games needed to reach 15 wins in any season with 17. The 1929-30 Boston Bruins, 1985-86 Philadelphia Flyers and 2006-07 Sabres also took just 17 contests to achieve 15 victories.
"Both teams gave up a lot of chances and both goalies played pretty well tonight, but overall we've got to be pretty happy coming out with a win,"
Alfredsson said. "We know they were a desperate team and they played hard, we got into penalty trouble, but we battled through it and got the two points."
"The points were important," Paddock said. "(But) we've played a lot better in games, that's for sure."
Dany Heatley and Mike Fisher each had a pair of assists and Martin Gerber stopped 35 shots to earn the victory in goal.
Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy, with a power-play goal, replied for Buffalo (6-10-1), which lost for the third straight game. The Sabres have now dropped six of their past seven.
Ryan Miller made 31 saves for Buffalo.
The Sabres squandered a number of odd-man rushes, particularly in the first period, and Gerber was helped by his post and his crossbar on two separate occasions or it could have been a different outcome. Both teams went 1-for-7 on the power play.
"We played the best team in the league and I thought we outplayed the best team in the league," Roy said. "We were always right there."
Jason Spezza was back in Ottawa's lineup after sitting out six games because of a groin injury and he was reunited on the Senators' top line alongside Alfredsson and Heatley.
It was the first time the Northeast Division rivals were meeting since Alfredsson's overtime goal in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final ended the Sabres' season in May.
At this same point in the season last year, Buffalo was the cream of the NHL with a 15-1-1 record while Ottawa was struggling along at 6-10-1, but it's a been a reversal of fortunes this fall.
"We've got to keep working to get past it and keep going harder," Sabres defenceman Brian Campbell said. "It's frustrating times here."
Both teams were playing for the first time in five days and it was Alfredsson who again proved to be Buffalo's nemesis.
He opened the scoring at the 6:32 mark and, after Hecht replied 58 second later, Alfredsson restored the lead on an Ottawa power play after Buffalo failed to clear a loose puck in a goal-mouth scramble.
Ahead 3-1 midway through the third, Roy scored from a sharp angle to bring the Sabres to within a goal during a 5-on-3 power play.
Buffalo found itself with another two-man advantage minutes later, but Gerber and the Senators' penalty killing held firm the rest of the way.
"They needed to come up in a pressure situation and they did," Paddock said. "I don't think we played well at all. Gerber saved us a little bit at times."
Notes: Senators right-winger Chris Neil appeared in his 400th NHL game. a Ottawa begins a three-game road trip on Saturday at Toronto. The Senators will also face Montreal before a rematch with the Sabres. a Buffalo returned home to face the Canadiens on Friday night. a The game was the Sabres' fifth of nine straight against division rivals.