OTTAWA – Ottawa Senators coach Cory Clouston’s decision to juggle his top two lines paid immediate dividends.
Alex Kovalev scored his first goal to lead a balanced attack as the Senators defeated Atlanta 4-2 Saturday night, handing the Thrashers their first loss of the season.
Kovalev, playing alongside Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson for the first time this season, finally picked up his first point and had a couple of solid chances as well.
“Feels great to get the first goal,” said Kovalev. “But I think first is to get the win, that’s most important.”
Clouston will likely keep the line together when the Senators host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.
“It looks like it’s working pretty good,” said Kovalev. “We understand each other, but it’s only been one game. We need to put a few games together like that and we’ll see from there.”
Fisher, Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil also scored for the Senators (3-1-0), who have won three straight since a season-opening 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers.
Ilya Kovalchuk and Ron Hainsey countered for the Thrashers (2-1-0), who opened the season with a pair of impressive wins but looked flat against Ottawa.
“It was too bad,” said Kovalchuk. “I don’t think we played our best game. We didn’t show up, we didn’t play physical, but there’s still lots of games ahead of us.”
Fisher, who picked up his second goal in as many games, was instrumental to the Senators’ success. The 29-year-old scored the team’s first power-play goal of the season, won 68 per cent of his face-offs and was a physical force.
“Fisher was very good in the face-off circle,” said Clouston. “He was also very good in a lot of little areas.”
The start is refreshing for Fisher, who didn’t score until his 10th game last season and wound up with just 12 goals.
“I don’t feel like I’ve done a whole lot different,” said Fisher. “The puck’s just going in for me. I’m trying to get in scoring areas and shoot the puck as much as I can. I’m just glad it’s going in.”
The Senators got off to a strong start, jumping out to a 2-0 lead before the game was three minutes old.
Kovalev scored in the opening minute after taking a pass from Fisher. The Senators doubled the lead shortly after as Ruutu beat Pavelec, who faced 34 shots, between the legs.
While Ottawa looked to have things in control at that point, the Thrashers rallied to tie the score by the end of the period.
Kovalchuk cut the lead in half with his fifth of the season as he caught Elliott moving. Then, with less than two minutes in the period, Hainsey made it 2-2 as he beat a screened Elliott.
Elliott, who faced 28 shots, was making his first start of the season and was strong in the final two periods.
“He was solid,” said Clouston. “A couple of times we faltered and he was there for us.”
Elliott was happy to get the first game out of the way and pick up a win for the team.
“It’s huge to get that confidence,” said Elliott. “Knowing that you can go in there after a while and play your best. The guys played great in front of me and shut down their top guys. Overall it was a good game.”
The Senators regained the lead on the man advantage as Fisher picked up a rebound in the slot and beat Pavelec stick-side.
Neil iced the game with his first of the season. Nick Foligno picked up the puck behind the net, threw it out front and Neil jumped on it to beat Pavelec stick side.
Vyacheslav Kozlov appeared to make it 4-3 shortly after, but the goal was called back due to a high stick.
Notes: Ottawa’s Peter Regin left the game with an upper-body injury and will be re-evaluated Sunday. … Kovalchuk has 32 points in 28 career games against the Senators. … The Senators were without C Jesse Winchester (knee, day-to-day), RW Ryan Shannon (upper body, day-to-day) and D Filip Kuba (lower body, day-to-day). The Thrashers were without D Boris Valabik (ankle, 4-to-6 weeks) and G Kari Lehtonen (back surgery, undetermined). D Marc Popovic and C Jim Slater were healthy scratches.