Senators open season with a win in Winnipeg

The NHL picked the right spot to kick off its season Saturday — a frozen prairie town virtually free of residual anger over the league’s 113-day lockout.

Senators open season with a win in Winnipeg
Ondrej Pavelec #31 of the Winnipeg Jets reaches but can't stop Chris Neil #25 of the Ottawa Senators from scoring during second period action on January 19, 2013 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)

WINNIPEG, Man. — The NHL picked the right spot to kick off its season Saturday — a frozen prairie town virtually free of residual anger over the league’s 113-day lockout.

As for the Ottawa Senators’ start? That went pretty well too.

Milan Michalek, Chris Neil and Erik Karlsson and Kyle Turris scored for the Senators as they overcame some early nerves and a rowdy MTS Centre on the first day of this shortened season.

In fact, for all the chatter about the intimidation factor of Winnipeg’s rink, the Senators don’t mind playing here at one bit. Their 4-1 victory was the third in as many tries in the Manitoba capital, after they picked up twin 6-4 wins last season.

Craig Anderson overcame a shaky start, improving as the game went on to stop 27 shots.

Senators coach Paul MacLean considered turning to either backup Ben Bishop or top prospect Robin Lehner — both have played well with AHL Binghamton this season — in the first game and give Anderson a little more time to prepare.

Throwing him to the wolves instead turned out to be the right call.

At the other end, Ondrej Pavelec turned aside 33 Ottawa shots in a poor outing.

As expected, nerves had the Senators looking discombobulated early.

Anderson lost sight of puck in his crease early on and watched two shots clang off the post, the second on a backhander Jets star winger Evander Kane lifted after blowing right past an almost-stationary Chris Phillips.

A bad penalty by Chris Neil allowed the home side to score first — a one-timed blast from Byfuglien at the six-minute mark that further ignited an already hyped-up crowd of more than 15,000.

The lead was short-lived, however.

Michalek erased Neil’s mistake at 16:02 of the first with a slap shot past Pavelec, and Neil made amends late in the second period, bashing the puck in after an Erik Karlsson point shot.

Ottawa didn’t look back after that, as Karlsson matched Byfuglien’s blast with a one-timed power play goal of his own (the reigning Norris Trophy winner also picked up two assists) midway through the third period. Kyle Turris floated a weak wrister in the dying minutes to make the score really ugly.

If the Senators hope to make the playoffs this season, they’ll probably need to duplicate their strong road showing from a year ago (21-14-6).

Game 1 was a step in the right direction.

GAME FILE

CHEERS

Andre Benoit and Patrick Wiercioch, Senators. The Bingo buddies could have been the weak link on Ottawa’s blue line, what with their lack of NHL experience, but they looked like the most solid pair at times. Familiarity is a good thing.

JEERS

Blake Wheeler, Jets. Last season’s team scoring leader was a non-factor, registering one late shot on goal and finishing a minus-1.

WHY THEY WON

The Senators didn’t lose their cool after giving up the first goal in a hostile rink, chipping away until they pulled even and then ahead.

SUPER SAVER

Craig Anderson’s best stop of the game came a shortly after the Senators took their first and only lead. Left alone in the slot, Winnipeg blue chipper Mark Scheifele tried to pick a low corner, only to have a sure goal snapped away by Anderson’s glove.

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