OTTAWA – Daniel Briere hasn’t let the absence of linemate Simon Gagne hurt his on-ice performance.
Briere had the winning goal and added two assists to lead the Flyers to a 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, giving Philadelphia its 13th win more than two months ahead of last year’s pace.
Briere, signed by the Flyers to a lucrative multi-year deal in the off-season, redirected a perfect pass from Scott Hartnell in front of the Senators net for his 12th goal of the season.
Gagne was Briere’s linemate at the beginning of the season but has missed the past eight games, and 12 of the past 14, with a concussion. Briere hasn’t missed a beat, posting six goals and six assists during Gagne’s eight-game absence.
“For myself it’s been kind of a roller coaster this season, especially since Simon Gagne went down, it’s been tough,” Briere said. “I’ve been switching lines left and right but the last few games it seems to be clicking.
“That winning goal was a perfect example. It was probably my easiest goal of the year.”
R.J. Umberger, Hartnell and Richards also scored for the Flyers (13-7-2) while Antero Niittymaki made a rare start stopping 29 shots for the win. The Flyers didn’t earn their 13th victory last season until Feb. 3.
Playing without Daniel Alfredsson, their captain and leading scorer, the Senators got goals from Wade Redden, Dany Heatley and Christoph Schubert.
Ray Emery took over in goal in the second period relieving starter Martin Gerber, who allowed three goals on 25 shots. Emery surrendered the final goal and made 16 saves.
A crowd of 20,128 at Scotiabank Place saw the Senators (16-5-1) lose a third straight game for the first time since last March.
“I’m not overly concerned,” said Senators coach John Paddock. “You don’t go from all those wins and the best winning percentage to all of a sudden being bad.”
The middle loss in the current streak for the Senators was 6-5 in a shootout to the Pittsburgh Penguins last Thursday. The Senators haven’t lost back-to-back games in regulation since last December.
“We know we can play better but we’ll come back Monday and regroup, work hard and refocus,” said Senators forward Shean Donovan. “John is going to put us through our paces.
“You’re never too happy (losing) but we know we’ve got the team in here to win lots of games so we just have to get back to basics and play good defence.”
Trailing 4-3 entering the final period, the Senators did everything but tie the game as they pressed for the full 20 minutes. They had three power plays in the period and outshot the Flyers 10-7 but they were unable to beat Niittymaki. Emery went to the bench for an extra attacker with a minute and a half to play in the third period but the Senators couldn’t pull even.
The Flyers’ only pressure of the period came during one stretch late when the registered four shots in a 30 second span.
The Flyers held a 41-29 overall edge in shots.
“They’re a lot different than last year. They skate up and down hard, get the puck to the net and they capitalized on their chances more than we did,” Senators forward Chris Kelly said.
“We definitely didn’t get as many pucks to the net as we should have.”
The Senators came out of the first period with a 2-1 lead as Redden and Heatley sandwiched goals around Umberger’s third of the season, and first in 10 games.
Redden took a point shot that found its way through several bodies and past Niittymaki at 6:33 on the power play. After Umberger tied the game less than two minutes later, Heatley wound up at the top of the faceoff circle and launched a missile over Niittymaki and in.
Hartnell tied the game 2-2 just 58 seconds into the second period but Schubert gave the Senators a 3-2 lead three minutes later when he banked a shot from the corner off Niittymaki’s pad and in.
“Anytime you see a goal like that you want to get the puck to the net as much as possible,” said Kelly. “I don’t think we got there as much as we should have.”
The rest of the period belonged to the Flyers as they outshot the Senators 19-10 and got goals from Richards and Briere to take the lead.
“We’ve shown a lot of character and the big thing for us is finding that consistency and playing hard every single game,” said Briere. “Coming here, it’s always a tough place to play and we knew they were going through a tough stretch and we wanted to jump on them. But you can tell that they’re a good team and they have lots of skills.”
Notes: The Senators are 15-1 when scoring first this season. . . . Heatley has appeared in 217 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 28, 2004 while a member of the Atlanta Thrashers.