The Buffalo Sabres are finally learning what most of their opponents already knew. If you score first, the game is a lot more fun.
The Sabres scored three goals in the opening period for the second straight game, and the result was their second straight win. The Sabres dispatched the rival Ottawa Senators in a hurry Wednesday night, skating off with a 4-2 victory in HSBC Arena.
"The puck is finally starting to go in the nets for us," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "The game is a lot more interesting when you can get the lead. I thought that first period was maybe as good a first period as we've played."
The Sabres had given up the opening goal in 14 straight games, and they struggled in most of them to fall to last place. But they struck first in last Friday's victory over Montreal, and they did it again versus Ottawa to win back-to-back games for the first time in November. They hadn't won two straight since Oct. 26-27 versus Florida and Tampa Bay.
"That's how we're trying to approach things, try to get the first one," Sabres forward Michael Ryan said.
"We've done that the last two games, and we've seen where that has taken us."
The Sabres wasted no time jumping their bitter rival, giving the sellout crowd of 18,690 ample opportunity to harass Ottawa netminder Ray Emery. The Sabres built a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes, the fourth time this season they've struck for that many that early. Buffalo has 16 first-period goals, and 12 have come in those four games -- the Oct. 5 opener against the New York Islanders, Oct. 11 against Atlanta, last Friday versus Montreal plus Wednesday night.
Ryan's first goal of the season came just 1:26 into the game. He positioned himself at the top of the crease, and he had an easy tap-in of Daniel Paille's pass as the Senators' defensemen ignored him.
Ales Kotalik redeemed himself to make it 2-0 midway through the period. Just before the goal, he took a power-play blast that missed the net by about 40 feet. The man with the Sabres' best shot was given the puck back by Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller, and he was off. He circled the net to start an end-to-end rush down the middle of the ice, finishing with a stick-side wrister that beat Emery.
"The first one, the puck just bounced on its edge at the last second," Kotalik said. "The other one, I think Emery just didn't expect it all."
Tim Connolly, back after missing five games with a strained oblique, should have made it 3-0, but he missed an open net from 5 feet away.
Derek Roy succeeded where Connolly failed. Thomas Vanek and his centerman had a two-on-one against Wade Redden, and Vanek carried the puck around a prone Emery. The winger put the puck through the crease, and Roy directed it home with just 37.6 seconds left in the period.
The Senators reunited their top scoring line in the second period, and Ottawa suddenly resembled the team that skated out to a 16-3 record. With Jason Spezza in the middle of Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson, the Senators scored twice in a span of 2:02 to trim their deficit to one.
Alfredsson scored first, with 10:32 to go in the second. Heatley was pressuring the Sabres' Henrik Tallinder behind the net, and the defenseman coughed up the puck to Spezza, who spotted Alfredsson alone in the slot.
"That line's a lot to handle, but we made the same mistake we made the other night," Ruff said. "We made almost the identical [mistake], which we've got to correct -- by our pair of defense [Tallinder and Toni Lydman] that are the guys we count on for the best plays against the top lines. We can't hand those opportunities out."
Heatley's power-play goal came with 8:30 left, but Vanek combined with Drew Stafford to send the Sabres into intermission with a 4-2 advantage. Miller quickly sent a Senators' dumpout back up ice to catch Ottawa in a line change. Vanek and Stafford had a two-on-one, and the Sabres' $50 million man made a priceless pass that allowed Stafford to tip the puck home from the doorstep.
"I think we played a little flat in the second, and that was a big goal for us to get back up two in the third," Vanek said.
The Sabres evened their record against Ottawa at 1-1.
"Not only are they a rival, but they're a premier team in this league," Ryan said. "It's a good team to try and measure up to. I'm not sure if we're quite there yet, but we're definitely taking steps in the right direction."
Slap shots: Sabres begin first winning streak since late October. . . . Ryan, Kotalik and Roy give Sabres 3-0 lead in first period. . . . Vanek finishes with two assists.
Fast fact: Sabres have 16 first-period goals, and 12 have come in four games.
Next game:Montreal Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. Friday in HSBC Arena.