PITTSBURGH – The Ottawa Senators were admittedly embarrassed during their last visit to Pittsburgh.
Just five weeks later, they left the Steel City on one of the best streaks in franchise history.
Brian Elliot made 30 saves to win his sixth consecutive start, and the Senators tied a club record with their eighth straight win, 4-1 over the Penguins on Thursday night.
Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Jason Spezza and Nick Foligno scored for the Senators, who matched the Washington Capitals for the NHL’s longest active winning streak. It is Ottawa’s longest run since Oct. 13-Nov. 6, 2007.
“We’re rolling right now,” Spezza said. “We’re beating good teams and gaining confidence from it. It’s a broken record, but winning breeds confidence, and we’re a confident bunch right now.”
Evgeni Malkin scored 1:34 into the game for the Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions who had beaten Ottawa 8-2 on Dec. 23. Pittsburgh had its lead over the Senators for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings trimmed to three points.
“You definitely don’t want to get embarrassed like that,” said Spezza of the previous meeting with Pittsburgh – a game he missed due to a knee injury. “As hockey players, you have a lot of pride, and we came ready to compete tonight.”
Elliott, who began the season as the team’s backup, has been in net for the six most recent victories and has allowed only six goals during that span.
“We did a good job keeping everything on the outside,” Elliott said. “I was able to cover up some rebounds and guys were right there on top of the crease swiping rebounds away that I didn’t get to. It’s really comforting as a goalie back there when guys are playing that well in front of you.”
With No. 1 goalie Pascal Leclaire injured throughout much of the season, Elliott has taken advantage of the playing time. One of his best saves Thursday was a stop against defenceman Sergei Gonchar from the slot on a power play early in the second period.
“He’s doing a great job of not only saving the pucks right now but smothering them in front of the net,” Senators defenceman Chris Phillips said. “He’s not giving up rebounds. You can see when he’s doing that, he’s on his game.”
Elliott shut down Pittsburgh after Malkin scored his sixth in six games early on a perfectly placed shot from the right circle that beat Elliott high to the glove side.
But the closest the Penguins would come to scoring the remainder of the game came when Kris Letang shot the puck into the net moments after the horn sounded to end the second period.
“We didn’t execute enough, and I don’t think we were really too tough to play against,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who was held scoreless after collecting 10 points in his previous four games.
“We didn’t play a tough enough game.”
Fisher tied it 1-1 at 10:06 of the first with his 18th, a tap-in into an open net off a feed from Foligno moments after Fisher’s wrist shot hit the post.
The Senators took the lead 3:33 later when Kelly directed a loose puck into an open net while standing in front of the crease, following a shot by Jarkko Ruutu, for his 10th of the season.
“I think we responded very well after they got that early goal,” Ottawa coach Cory Clouston said. “To me that was really important. We jumped right back and scored a couple goals and took the momentum away from them.”
Spezza scored for the third consecutive game since returning from missing 20 games because of a knee injury. His eighth of the season came 4:27 into the third. Foligno sealed the win with an empty-netter.
The Senators, whose winning streak was preceded by five straight losses, have outscored opponents 27-8 during the past eight.
“They’re one of the teams that’s really stepped it up here,” Crosby said. “They’re solid. They play a pretty simple game and they play hard and (have) gotten some good goaltending lately.”
NOTES: Ottawa D Matt Carkner was knocked out of the game for most of the second period by a hand injury but returned. … Penguins C Jordan Staal played his 300th NHL game. … Foligno has a three-game point streak. … Ottawa is 12-1-1 when leading after one period and 19-1 when leading after two.