OTTAWA – Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish liked what he saw from the newest members of his team Thursday night. It was the performance he got from the rest of the Oilers that he had a problem with.
The Oilers gave up a goal to Ottawa’s Jason Spezza just 12 seconds into the game and the Senators went on to record a 4-2 victory, spoiling the debuts of newly acquired Ales Kotalik and Patrick O’Sullivan for Edmonton.
“I was impressed by what I saw of the skill level of both the acquisitions we got, but when you have a certain percentage of your defencemen play the way they played tonight, you can’t win at this level,” MacTavish said. “You’ve got to have reliability first and playmaking ability second and we fell short in both of those areas.
“A very puzzling, disappointing game. It’s a time for introspection for them. You have the expectation of a certain amount of intensity when you play a game like this and you’re in the situation that we’re in.”
Spezza’s goal established a Senators team record with his marker and Mike Comrie and Chris Campoli scored a little more than two minutes apart in the second to stop a three-game winless slide by Ottawa (24-29-10).
Just after the opening faceoff, Edmonton’s Denis Grebeshkov sent a rink-wide pass to defensive partner Tom Gilbert that missed its mark and bounced off the boards and over Gilbert’s stick. The gaffe allowed Spezza to break in alone on Dwayne Roloson and slip a backhander through the goalie’s pads in front of a crowd of 17,904 at Scotiabank Place.
Daniel Alfredsson held the previous mark for the fastest goal in Ottawa’s modern history by scoring 13 seconds into a Feb. 5, 2004, game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, also at Scotiabank Place.
“It’s always nice to get one that early. I don’t think I’ve ever had one that quick,” said Spezza, who also added an assist on the night. “It’s nice to get off to a quick start in this league. It’s a lot easier than trying to play catch up.”
Kotalik and O’Sullivan arrived just before Wednesday’s trade deadline via the Buffalo Sabres and Los Angeles Kings, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Senators dealt forward Antoine Vermette to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the deadline in exchange for goaltender Pascal Leclaire and a second-round draft pick. However, it was a pair of players acquired in a Feb. 19 deal with the New York Islanders that made the difference.
Comrie, then Campoli, beat Roloson 2:02 apart in the second period, giving Ottawa just its second triumph in the past eight games. Dany Heatley also added a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to seven games.
With the playoffs all but out of the Senators’ reach, they dealt a blow to the Oilers’ post-season hopes, especially after the Nashville Predators beat the Columbus Blue Jackets by the same 4-2 score on Thursday.
“We played a good team game and we know we’ve got to get better to get ourselves to where we were before,” Spezza said. “These next 20 games are important for us to build momentum going into next year.”
Edmonton came into the game in seventh spot in the Western Conference, tied on 68 points with eight place Nashville and ninth-place Anaheim and having played one less game than the Predators and two less than the Ducks.
Coming off a 6-5 overtime loss in Nashville, the Oilers (31-27-6) have just two victories in their past eight games and have not won in Ottawa since March 14, 2002.
“It’s a tough loss, obviously,” said Sam Gagner, who had both goals for Edmonton. “Those are the games where you’ve got to try to gain points in the standings. A few mental mistakes cost us.”
The Oilers also ran into a strong performance from Senators rookie goaltender Brian Elliott, who had been struggling with a 0-1-1 record and 5.18 goals-against average in his last five games. He finished with 24 saves.
“Elliott did a good job of making the first save and we tried to keep the rebounds away and really limit their chances,” Spezza said.
Roloson, making his 20th straight start in goal for the Oilers, finished with 28 stops.
The Senators suffered one loss when centre Peter Regin, recalled Wednesday to take Vermette’s place in the lineup, limped out of the game in the third period with a lower-body injury and didn’t return. His status was not immediately known.
The Oilers gave up Erik Cole and a fifth-round pick to land O’Sullivan after he’d originally been dealt to Carolina. They sent a second-round selection, initially belonging to the Hurricanes, to the Sabres in exchange for Kotalik.
Kotalik, wearing the No. 21, took up a spot at left wing on the Oilers’ top line with centre Shawn Horcoff and fellow Czech Ales Hemsky.
“There could be potential with those guys,” Kotalik said, “once I get a feeling for what their tendencies are.
“It was tough to get anything going, even though we had some good opportunities in the first.”
On Edmonton’s second unit, O’Sullivan, who donned No. 19, skated with Gagner and right-winger Marc-Antoine Pouliot.
Ottawa defenceman and former Oilers captain Jason Smith was honoured before the game for reaching the 1,000 career games played mark on Feb. 17 at Colorado. The Senators presented the 35-year-old with a milestone award from the league and a portrait.
They then went out and got the early jump on the Oilers with Spezza’s quick goal.
“That’s a tough one,” said Gagner, sporting stitches to seal a small cut on his lip. “It obviously took the win out of our sails a little bit.”
It stayed that way until the opening five minutes of the second when, with a delayed penalty coming to Edmonton, Spezza set up Comrie to make it 2-0. The goal was Comrie’s ninth of the season and second since the trade from the Islanders.
Two minutes later, Campoli notched his first in a Senators uniform, scoring on the power play.
“It felt great to get that monkey off my back,” said Campoli, who took a pass from Comrie and scored from close range. “I thought we played really well tonight. A pretty complete game. We took care of the puck when we needed to, we made smart decisions and we skated. When we do those things, we’re a tough team to play against.”
Gagner cut the lead to 3-1 midway through the period and he and Heatley exchanged goals in the third.
Notes: Leclaire arrived in Ottawa on Thursday afternoon and was introduced to the Ottawa media before the game. “Getting the chance to play in (this) kind of market coming to Canada, playing in Columbus is not the same vibe at all,” said Leclaire, who’s recovering from ankle surgery and isn’t expected to play this season. “It’s a real different vibe and people care about it so much and for a player, it’s real exciting.” With their new bodies in the lineup, the Oilers scratched forwards Robert Nilsson, Steve MacIntyre and Liam Reddox. Edmonton is in Toronto to face the Leafs on Saturday.