NASHVILLE -- Following a 2-1 shootout victory against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday, Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean said his team is "slowly starting to build momentum."
If 11 out of a possible 12 points in the past six games is slow, then watch out for the Senators when they really get hot. Ottawa's 5-0-1 streak has the Senators within one point of the Eastern Conference's eighth and final spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It's too early, I think, for that," Senators captain Jason Spezza said. "But we do look at the standings. You don't want to fall behind. We know we're in a lump of a group of teams, but with the games-in-hand and the not-games-in-hand I think it's too early to be looking at where you sit."
Spezza scored with a wrist shot through Nashville goalie Marek Mazanec's five-hole to give the Senators a 2-0 win in the shootout. Mika Zibanejad scored on a wrist shot low to the blocker side in the first round, and Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson stopped Craig Smith with a toe in the first round and turned aside David Legwand in the second.
"I thought tonight he scored with authority," MacLean said of an increasingly confident Zibanejad.
Ottawa (20-18-8) has a point in eight of its past nine (6-1-2). The Senators are 2-5 in the shootout, with Anderson 2-2.
Nashville (19-20-7) is 3-2-3 in its past eight. The Predators fell to 0-5 in the shootout with rookie Mazanec 0-3. Nashville has scored one shootout goal (by Legwand) in 18 chances this season.
Ottawa had to kill a penalty over the final 1:36 of overtime to get to the shootout after defenseman Marc Methot was called for holding the stick of former Senators forward Mike Fisher as the Predators buzzed late. Nashville, which fell to 1-7 in games decided after regulation, outshot Ottawa 6-0 in overtime and had three shots on the power play.
Anderson, who made 32 saves and stopped Viktor Stalberg's first-period penalty shot, saved one of Nashville defenseman Shea Weber's trademark blistering slap shots, a 36-footer, during that power play. Anderson was asked if he had a hot glove, which he used to stop Stalberg on the penalty shot.
"No, no," he said, "my right shoulder hurts from Mr. Weber's shot earlier in the game. The sun shines on a horse's patoot every once in a while."
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said, "He stole the point for them tonight."
Some physical play helped wake up the Predators and even the game. First, Eric Nystrom and the Senators' Colin Greening engaged in a protracted fight at 15:00. Then Rich Clune put a hard hit on Ottawa's Jared Cowen that resulted in a boarding call, but Spezza took exception and dropped his gloves and started hitting Clune. That earned Spezza a roughing call, and Nashville capitalized on the 4-on-4.
Ryan Ellis cranked a slap shot from the high slot, but it deflected off Zibanejad and caromed directly to Fisher, who whisked the puck in from the doorstep at 3:00. The point was Fisher's 111th in the past eight games and his fifth goal during that span. It was his 12th of the season, moving him one behind Smith for the team lead.
Ottawa took a 1-0 lead at 6:23 of the second period, capitalizing on a miscue by Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm. He reversed the puck behind his net but no one was there except Ottawa center Kyle Turris. He put the puck in the net before Mazanec even moved from the opposite post.
"It looks easy because the goalie's not looking," Spezza said, "but it's a tough shot. He does a good job of putting that through the back of the net."
Stalberg earned his penalty shot when Ottawa defenseman Joe Corvo tripped him from behind. (Coincidentally, Stalberg had just come out of the penalty box for tripping Corvo.) Anderson made a glove save on a relatively mild wrist shot.
"It's one of those things where you have to bail your team out, and it's just 1-on-1 with the guy, and that's kind of what you live for is those moments," Anderson said. "It's kind of one of those things where it could have changed momentum either way. I think we got momentum after that."
While Ottawa is surging in the standings, Nashville is struggling to get traction in the Western Conference.
"We've had some difficult stretches where we absolutely deserve to get those two points, but we haven't been able to do it," Trotz said. "We come and play hard every night, and that's something I think everybody in that room can hang their hat on. There's nothing to complain about.
"We've got to let this one go in about an hour from now. We've got the Minnesota Wild (on Sunday) and that might be an even bigger two points and we need to go after that and get the Wild. There's no looking back. We've just got to look forward. It's a good point and they're a good team."