BUFFALO, N.Y. – Steve Ott and the Buffalo Sabres haven’t received the message their team is supposed to be rebuilding for next season.
However, the Ottawa Senators are picking the wrong time to stumble.
Ott had a goal in his first game since being promoted to assistant captain, and Brian Flynn and Jochen Hecht capped a three-goal, third-period rally by scoring 12 seconds apart in leading the veteran-depleted Sabres to a 4-2 win on Friday night.
“Hah, there’s no memo,” Ott said, when asked about the Sabres trading away three veteran players over the past week for prospects and draft picks. “There’s no indication of that even being said in this room. We really want to fight. There’s a lot to play for in this dressing room, and we’ve got 10 games left to prove that.”
Buffalo (15-17-6), which ended the Penguins’ 15-game winning streak with a 4-1 win at Pittsburgh on Tuesday, has won two straight to jump into sole possession of 12th place in the Eastern Conference. With 36 points, the Sabres moved to within four of the eighth-place New York Islanders.
The Senators are suddenly slipping as they continue to struggle on the road.
Marc Methot and Eric Gryba scored for Ottawa, which has lost three in a row in regulation for the first time this season. The fifth-place Senators (19-12-6) dropped to 6-9-3 away from home in the midst of a seven-game trip.
“We can’t do anything about the last three, all we can do is something about the next one we play,” coach Paul MacLean said, looking ahead to a game Sunday at Florida. “It’s a must-win to make sure that we stop the bleeding type of thing.”
The Senators took brief control by building a 2-1 lead 1:41 into the third period, when Gryba’s shot from above the right circle sneaked in through a crowd.
Buffalo tied it 1:34 later when Ott, parked in front, deflected in Mark Pysyk’s shot from the left boards.
Flynn scored the go-ahead goal with 5:23 remaining when Hecht set him up with a no-look pass through the crease.
Hecht sealed it by scoring off the next faceoff. Driving up the left wing, he outmuscled Kyle Turris, stopped, spun around in the circle, and backhanded a shot that beat goalie Robin Lehner through the legs.
It was an impressive display for a Sabres team that has scored four goals in regulation in consecutive games for the first time this season.
Buffalo was playing its first game since trading captain Jason Pominville to Minnesota on Wednesday. The Sabres were also without leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who missed a fifth game because of an upper body injury.
“It hasn’t been easy, maybe a little bit tougher on some of the guys that have been here a little bit longer,” said goalie Ryan Miller, referring to the team’s depleted roster. “Just put everything aside, everything else can wait. Just trying to be right here right now and play some hockey and see how it goes. I was proud of the guys.”
Miller made 35 saves. Luke Adam also scored for Buffalo in his second game since being called up from AHL Rochester. Defencemen Adam Pardy and Mike Weber added two assists while getting additional playing time after Buffalo traded Robyn Regehr to Los Angeles on Monday, and Jordan Leopold to St. Louis on March 30.
The Senators have also made a few changes, but with an eye on continuing their late-season playoff push. Rookie centre Cory Conacher made his debut after being acquired in a trade that sent goalie Ben Bishop to Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
Though he didn’t register a point, he was part of an all-rookie line rounded out by Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg that had a hand in both goals.
“I felt really comfortable with the team. It’s an easy fit to play with those guys,” Conacher said. “It would’ve been better to win the game and contribute a little more. But it happens, and we’ll turn the page and go on to the next game.”
NOTES: It was a homecoming for Conacher, who is from Dunnvillle, Ontario, about 40 miles west of Buffalo, and played at Buffalo’s Canisius College. … Sabres 2012 third-round pick F Justin Key was signed by AHL Rochester, to an amateur tryout. Key had just completed his junior season with Saginaw of the Ontario Hockey League. … In stopping his 12th shot of the game 22 seconds into the second period,Miller passed Dominik Hasek to take over the franchise lead with 13,309 career saves.