OTTAWA – With Dany Heatley already on the sidelines, things didn’t look good for the Ottawa Senators when Daniel Alfredsson limped off early in the second period against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.
Fortunately for the Senators, Antoine Vermette and Jason Spezza were able to pick up the slack.
Vermette broke an eight-game goal-less drought and Spezza managed a goal and an assist without his usual wingers in the Senators’ 5-1 win over the Hurricanes before a sold-out crowd of 19,720 at Scotiabank Place.
“If you had the choice, you’d always want to have (Alfredsson) in the lineup,” Vermette said. “He’s our best player and he’s been our best player this year and that’s the same thing without Heater – we’re facing adversity. Last year we played well when facing adversity so we’re just trying to do the same thing again.”
Vermette scored on the power play in the first period and added another in the second during a three-goal outburst that ensured the Senators would put a halt to their two-game losing slide.
“We weren’t happy with losing two in a row and now’s a tough time of the year. We’ve got five games going into the all-star break and we want to try and make sure we’re winning,” Spezza said. “Different guys stepped up. We lost Alfie and Vermie and a lot of guys played well tonight.”
Alfredsson left in the second period with a hip flexor problem, although it’s not expected to be serious. The team said he sat out for precautionary reasons. However, the injury did put an end to Alfredsson’s 11-game point streak.
It was the Senators’ third game since Heatley went down for the next four to six weeks with a separated shoulder and, after losing the first two – 3-1 to the New York Islanders on Sunday and 4-2 to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday – they responded with a victory.
“We don’t want it to be long term,” Spezza said. “It doesn’t matter how good your team is, you take a couple of guys like that out of your lineup, it’s going to hurt you.”
Randy Robitaille, occupying Heatley’s traditional place alongside Spezza, and Mike Fisher each had a goal for Ottawa (30-12-4).
Martin Gerber stopped 36 shots to earn the victory in goal.
The Senators improved to 15-4-3-1 in their past 23 meetings with the Hurricanes.
Ray Whitney had the lone goal for Carolina (22-23-4), which lost for the fourth straight game and fifth time in its past six contests to dip under the .500 mark for the first time this season.
“We’ve got to find a way to dig ourselves out of this hole,” Hurricanes defenceman Glen Wesley said. “We’re running out of games, running out of time.”
Cam Ward made 27 saves.
Hurricanes centre Rod Brind’Amour had an assist in the game to give him 1,103 career points, moving him into a tie with Frank Mahovlich for 53rd place on the NHL’s all-time point list.
The Hurricanes, who’ve been hit hard by injuries recently, welcomed back a trio of veterans, although it didn’t help them break out of their slump.
Forwards Matt Cullen (concussion) and Scott Walker (knee) returned after sitting out the past seven and six games, respectively. Defenceman Bret Hedican (knee) had missed the past nine games.
“What do you try? You’ve just got to do what you know works, and that’s just to come out and try to execute,” Brind’Amour said. “We’ve had our meetings, we’ve had our talks and everyone knows what’s going. It’s gut-check time and it’s not easy when your confidence is a little shaken.
“You can tell we’re not making the plays that we were at the start of the year but this is the NHL and you’ve got to bounce back and we’ve got to find a way to do that.”
The Senators managed the only goal of the first midway through the period when the Hurricanes were whistled for three straight minor penalties in quick succession, giving Ottawa back-to-back 5-on-3 power plays as a result.
Vermette converted a rebound from a scramble in front of Ward on the second two-man advantage. It was Vermette’s first goal in nine games.
In the second, the Senators exploded for three goals in two minutes 23 seconds to blow the game open.
Fisher got things started with a quick shot from the slot at the 11:09 mark and, 63 seconds later, Vermette cashed in his own rebound after Ward made the initial save on his breakaway attempt.
Robitaille, whose wife Joanne gave birth to a baby girl named Mallory earlier in the day, made it 4-0 at the 13:32 mark after taking a cross-ice feed from Spezza.
“They got a couple of quick ones and that was the game,” Brind’Amour said.
Robitaille missed Tuesday night’s game as a healthy scratch.
“It was nice to come back and just try to contribute as much as possible,” he said. “(The goal) was special.”
Whitney got Carolina on the scoreboard during a two-man advantage early in the third, but Spezza restored the four-goal cushion near the midway mark of the period on a nice individual effort.
Notes: The Senators held their annual Canadian Forces Appreciation Night and entertained more than 2,600 Canadian Forces members and their families at the game. . . . Ottawa’s next game is Saturday, when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit Scotiabank Place. . . . The Hurricanes return home to play the Edmonton Oilers on Friday.