The Ottawa Senators
’ top players haven’t just been returning to the lineup, they’ve been making their presence felt immediately.
Daniel Alfredsson was back Saturday night, reuniting the Senators’ top line, and all the captain did was net two goals and finish with five points to tie Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead in scoring as Ottawa routed the Montreal Canadiens 6-1 at Scotiabank Place.
Alfredsson’s linemates also had huge nights as the Senators extended their lead over the Canadiens in the Northeast Division to five points.
Jason Spezza notched his first NHL hat trick and registered a career-high six points, while Dany Heatley had a goal and three assists after making his own return Thursday from a shoulder injury and scoring twice, including the game-winner, against Florida.
''The puck was following me tonight and when you get a couple of early ones you always feel a little better about your game,'' Spezza said. ''Getting the lead is important against this team because they trap it up pretty good, so the early ones force them to take a few chances and that's usually when we capitalize.''
Alfredsson, who had missed the previous four games with a hip injury that has plagued him for the last month, now has 73 points in 49 games. Spezza has 71 points in 50 games and Heatley has 63 in 45, making for the most dangerous trio in the League.
"It's no secret that that's a big line for us," said goalie Ray Emery, who made 33 saves. "You can see the impact of [Heatley and Alfredsson] being back for the last couple games."
They proved that in the opening five minutes Saturday, racing to a 3-0 lead and chasing Canadiens goaltender Cristobal Huet.
Spezza gave the Senators all the offense they would need with a pair of goals 1:20 apart. He opened the scoring just 22 seconds after the opening draw when he won a faceoff in the Montreal zone, got the puck back to Anton Volchenkov and deflected the blueliner’s drive past Huet.
Moments later, Huet stopped a Heatley shot but the puck slipped behind him and sat near the goal line. Spezza raced in to jam it home at 1:42 before the Canadiens’ Bryan Smolinski could clear it out of danger.
Alfredsson picked up a secondary assist on that goal and he ended Huet’s night at 4:45 when he scored off a give-and-go with Joe Corvo. Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau pulled Huet – who made one save on four shots – and replaced him with rookie Carey Price.
''It was obviously a bad start and we gave them the game in the first four minutes,'' Huet said. ''They're a good team and they played very well tonight.''
Price settled things down until midway through the second, when Ottawa’s snipers started to treat him much the same as they did his predecessor. First, Heatley converted his own rebound at 10:17 for his 28th of the season and a 4-0 lead.
Then Spezza completed his hat trick and notched his 23rd at 13:36 with a power-play goal.
Emery, making his second consecutive start, improved upon his effort against the Panthers, where he won despite allowing four goals. The only blemish against him Saturday was an Andrei Kostitsyn tally with 25 seconds left in the middle period and the Canadiens enjoying a 5-on-3 advantage.
Alfredsson got that goal back and capped the scoring 2:28 into the third, netting his team-high 33rd on a power play, with Spezza picking up an assist for his sixth point.
''It's easier for me to come in and get to the open spots because Spezza is playing really well which makes life a lot easier on his wingers,'' Alfredsson said.
Ottawa went 3-8 with Heatley out of the lineup and dropped three of the four games Alfredsson missed, allowing Montreal to close within a single point of the division lead. Senators coach John Paddock was just one person in the dressing room happy to see the big line back together.
''It's an easier game to play with the lead and we haven't done that in a long time with those guys out of the lineup,'' Paddock said.
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.