TORONTO – It was an inglorious end to an 11-game winning streak.
The Ottawa Senators, who hadn’t tasted defeat since Jan. 12, were vastly outplayed by their rival Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.
The Leafs entered the game in last place in the East, but had little problem shutting out Ottawa 5-0.
“We took four minor penalties in the first period,” said Senators coach Cory Clouston in a brief post-game press conference. “(Toronto) came out hard and had momentum and we shot ourselves in the foot with four penalties in the first period.”
The Leafs’ Phil Kessel scored a power-play marker early in the first period – it was Kessel’s first of two goals on the evening, while defenceman Luke Schenn recorded his first career two-goal night – and Toronto never looked back.
A victory over the Leafs would have vaulted the Senators into first place in the Northeast Division and third overall in the Eastern Conference, but with the loss, Ottawa remains in fifth place in the East with a 33-22-4 record.
“We were playing so well, it’s a shame we had to lose this way,” said Senators centre Jason Spezza. “We were feeling good, we were working hard and everything was going great. This gives us a dose of humility.”
The Sens’ run of 11 consecutive victories is the second-longest win streak in the NHL this season, trailing only the current 13-game hot stretch by the Washington Capitals. The Caps were one of two NHL teams that didn’t play on Saturday night.
“We were focused in the dressing room before the game and we were ready to go,” said Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, who saw his team spot the Leafs a 3-0 first-period lead.
“We knew they were going to come out hard, and they did. They put a lot of pressure on us early and we just didn’t respond to that.”
With the Pittsburgh Penguins losing 5-3 to the Montreal Canadiens and the Northeast Division-leading Buffalo Sabres falling 4-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the stage was set for Ottawa to climb the standings in the East. But it wasn’t meant to be.
“The Leafs have been playing well the past few games, not just tonight,” said Sens right-winger Jonathan Cheechoo. “At the same time, they came out and played really well.”
Senators goalie Brian Elliott, who was in net for Ottawa’s last nine straight victories, surrendered three goals in the first period – including two goals 28 seconds apart late in the opening frame – and another in the second before being yanked for Pascal Leclaire at the start of the third. Elliott hadn’t given up more than two goals in any game during his nine-game winning streak.
Ottawa returns home and faces the Calgary Flames on Tuesday – featuring the four ex-Maple Leafs who were exchanged for Dion Phaneuf in defenceman Ian White and forwards Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers – and then the Sens host the red-hot Capitals on Thursday.