BUFFALO – Well, Bobby Butler was certainly due.
Butler, who was responsible for two of the six posts the Ottawa Senators hit during regulation time, ended up scoring the shootout winner in the Senators 3-2 victory to close out the year on a positive note.
It was an extended five-round shootout on a night full of odd moments. It was also a victory that put the Senators back into playoff position as the Senators once again showcased that they’re worth sticking around to watch to the very end.
In four of the past five games, the Senators have gone to extra time, winning three times.
Earlier in the shootout, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson had scored for Ottawa, with Brad Boyes and Jason Pominville replying for the Sabres.
“After a couple of posts tonight, I was feeling it and I think that’s why the coach (Paul MacLean) gave me a chance,” said Butler. “I worked on some breakaways with (goaltender) Craig Anderson the other day and it felt good to get the two points.”
Buffalo was definitely a wounded animal, trying to fight through an assortment of injuries, and they hung tough to the end. The Senators, however, deserved the victory, outshooting the Sabres 46-28 – not including the posts. The Senators hit so many posts, in fact, that there was little consensus in the dressing room about just how many times the puck hit iron.
“I think there was maybe 10 or 11 posts, they had a couple in the third and in overtime or whatever it was,” said Anderson. “It was just one of those nights where we got some of the luck. Their goalie (Jhonas Enroth) was lucky – we had eight posts – but at the end we got the result we were looking for.”
The Senators caught the biggest break they needed when Pominville hit the post 50 seconds into overtime and they also got one in the third period with the score tied 2-2.
Paul Gaustad did put the puck in the net eight minutes into the period, but it came a split second after Pominville had knocked the cage off its moorings following a hit by Matt Carkner. There was plenty of spirit early in the third period as the officials put their whistles away, letting the players push and shove (and trip and hook) without giving either side a power play.
The Senators and Sabres were deadlocked 2-2 after two periods, but there were no shortage of bizarre moments to get the teams to that point. After two periods, the Senators had hit five posts. The bulk of the second period was spent with one team on the power play. Both Anderson and Enroth had moments early on where they fought the puck, turning innocent shots into adventures. Both goaltenders rebounded to make big saves in the third period.
On top of that, the Senators’ goal scorers were Carkner – his first since Dec. 10, 2010 and only the fourth of his career – and Chris Neil, who beat Enroth with a backhand up high following a pretty pass from Erik Condra. The Carkner and Neil goals also came in a period when Spezza received a roughing penalty. Go figure. The Sabres also received their second goal from their own muscle, Gaustad, an enemy in the eyes of the Senators because of the hit from behind which caused Jesse Winchester’s concussion on Dec. 20.
Crazy stuff all around. Was there a full moon on New Year’s Eve?
The Senators clearly had the edge in opportunities through two periods – they led 29-20 in shots, not including the five posts and the Sabres TV crew had the scoring chances at 15-6 in favour of Ottawa. Still, the Senators inability to cash in on three power play chances in the middle period and four in the first two periods didn’t sit well with MacLean.
The story of the first period was all about the posts behind Enroth. The Senators hit four – count ‘em four, with Erik Condra, Kyle Turris, Butler and Erik Karlsson all catching iron – but put no shots in the net. (Foligno hit the post in the second period). Brad Boyes opened the scoring on a power play goal only 4:06 into the game, after Anderson put himself in no position to stop a rebound following an awkward blocker stop off Jordan Leopold.
The Senators sported some intriguing new forward combinations and played without defenceman Sergei Gonchar for “precautionary reasons” after he took a puck in the head during the pre-game warm-up. The original plan called for Brian Lee to sit, with Carkner returning after being a healthy scratch during Friday’s 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames.
The Sabres are reeling from injuries, particularly on defence, having lost Christian Erhoff and Andrej Sekera to injuries in the past two games. They were already without Tyler Myers due to a wrist injury. “I’ve never seen it like this before,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “And I hope to never see it again.” They came into the game with a record of 1-5 in their previous six, 2-6-1 in their previous nine and were 7-12-3 during a 22-game stretch, dropping them well out of playoff position.
WHY THEY WON: The Senators stuck with the game plan, continuing to shoot and shoot some more, even with the sound of hit posts ringing in their ears. Bobby Butler put the finishing touches on the latest extra time win, as the Senators have now gone to extra time in four of their past five games, winning three.
STUD: Erik Karlsson, Senators: Karlsson had 10 shots on goal and seemingly played all night (30:37 actually). The highlight was actually a defensive gem, as he caught Jason Pominville from behind to stop a breakaway chance.
DUD: The warmup drill. The Senators are going to have to be more careful in the future, as they lost defenceman Sergei Gonchar for “precautionary reasons” when he took a puck to the head during the warmup before the game.
THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS…SIX TIMES?: Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth should have kissed his best friends after the first period. Erik Condra, Kyle Turris, Bobby Butler and Erik Condra all hit the post in the first period. The Senators outshot the Sabres 14-9 in the opening period, but that doesn’t include the pucks that hit iron behind Enroth. Nick Foligno added to the sound of iron in the second period, followed by Butler again with one minute remaining in the third period.