The Ottawa Senators are really good at making the Buffalo Sabres look really bad.
It makes no difference if the coach is Bryan Murray, John Paddock or Craig Hartsburg. The goaltender can be Ray Emery, Martin Gerber or Alex Auld. It doesn't even matter if the Senators are terrible and the Sabres are rolling.
All that matters is when the teams meet, Buffalo usually comes up short. In the latest case, woefully so.
A three-season trend rolled into its fourth year Monday, as Ottawa doused the Sabres' fiery start. The Senators steamrolled the Sabres, 5-2, giving Buffalo its first regulation loss.
"We're going to dump that in the trash can and move on," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
Ottawa has dominated the series since 2005-06. It improved to 16-5-4 in the regular season. Oh well, at least Buffalo will always have the 4-1 series win in the 2006 playoffs. Of course, Ottawa can just toss in its 4-1 postseason victory in 2007.
"We just get up for this team," said Senators forward Jason Spezza, who scored twice. "They're a good team, and we know if you don't come here with your best they're going to score eight on you because of the explosiveness they have. We know we've just got to be ready, and maybe that's why we've had good success."
The Sabres always bring out the best of their Northeast Division rival, even when Ottawa is playing its worst. The Senators entered HSBC Arena on a four-game losing streak and were just 2-5-1. The Sabres, meanwhile, were 6-0-2 and 3-0 at home.
The 18,690 in attendance sure walked out thinking the records could be reversed. They booed the Sabres when the team skated to the dressing room in a 4-0 hole after two periods. Their only real chances to cheer came in the third at the expense of hated rival Chris Neil, who took a puck to the head along with several punches from Andrew Peters, and when the Sabres scored two late goals to make the score look more respectable.
A long road trip obviously caught up with the Sabres. They got back at 4 a.m. Sunday after playing in Minnesota and Colorado.
"We had a good run," Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek said. "We came back from the West Coast with three of four points, beat the big teams, and time just hit us a little bit. If we had maybe [an] extra day, everything would be OK. But we just made the little mistakes, and they cost us a big game."
Aside from the Ottawa trio of Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson, who combined for seven points, the most visible people on the ice were the referees. There was just 33:07 of even-strength play, as the officials called 26 infractions.
That was a bad thing for Buffalo. Its power play was ugly until Clarke MacArthur and Teppo Numminen scored in the final 5:23. The Sabres went 2 for 10 with the man-advantage, while Ottawa was 2 of 6.
"Even though we scored two power-play goals late, we didn't have them when we needed them," Sabres forward Ales Kotalik said. "We've got to just focus on it because those are the situations that can either win the game for you or lose it for you."
Patrick Lalime, who had his best seasons with the Senators, was under siege by his former team from the outset. The Sabres' goaltender faced 11 shots in the first period, 14 in the second and finished with 23 saves on 28 shots. Auld, meanwhile, made 25 stops.
The Senators' first goal came when Spacek flubbed a clearing attempt and Christoph Schubert scored from point-blank range.
Ottawa opened a 3-0 lead early in the second when Antoine Vermette stole the puck from Derek Roy and fed Spezza for a breakaway.
"We made a couple mistakes, and I didn't make the big saves," Lalime said. "It's one of those nights."
The Sabres were forced to make a roster move for the game. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who suffered a deep cut above his ankle Saturday in Colorado, was unable to skate. Mike Weber, the last cut of training camp, was summoned from Portland and was partnered with Toni Lydman.
A young Bobby Orr could have come in and it wouldn't have mattered. The Senators just have the Sabres' number. It's 16-5-4.
"They've had some success against us," Ruff said, "but I'm not that concerned."
Senators 5, Sabres 2
Slap shots: Sabres embarrassed in suffering first regulation loss of season. ... Spezza, Heatley, Alfredsson combine for seven points. ... Lalime beaten by his former team.
Fast fact: The Senators are 16-5-4 against Buffalo the past four seasons.
Next: Tampa Bay Lightning, 7 p.m. Thursday in HSBC Arena.