Now that they’ve beaten the Eastern Conference’s top team twice, the Ottawa Senators hope they’ve started a turnaround from their dismal start to the season.
Ottawa gets a chance to maintain its momentum and capitalize on the stumbling Minnesota Wild on Monday in the only meeting between the teams this season.
It was Ottawa’s second win in three games, both against the Sabres. Buffalo has only lost two other games this season.
“We’ve been struggling, so it was nice to get the win,” Senators defenseman Chris Phillips said. “You don’t want to say those four-point games are important in November, but they really are. Division games are huge and if we can win those we can climb up faster.”
The Senators have only won three times in their last 11 games, though, and will aim for consecutive wins for just the second time this season Monday.
Their early-season struggles have them in last place in the Northeast Division, 16 points behind the Sabres. The Senators won the division and earned the top seed in the East last year with 113 points.
After 21 games in 2005-06, Ottawa had outscored its opponents 100-45 en route to an 18-3 record.
Despite the team’s struggles in 2006-07, goaltender Ray Emery has managed to go 5-3 with a 1.91 goals-against average in nine games. He has been especially stellar at Scotiabank Place, winning three of four starts with a 1.26 GAA.
Emery has started the last three games, relegating the struggling Martin Gerber to the bench.
Ottawa holds a 3-2-1 advantage all-time against Minnesota, including a 6-1 win in the last meeting on Jan. 16. The Senators last hosted the Wild on Feb. 25, 2003, a 3-0 loss for Ottawa.
The Wild (12-6-1) have only managed three wins—two of them coming in shootouts—in the last nine games.
Niklas Backstrom made 30 saves in regulation and overtime, but allowed two shootout goals as the Minnesota lost 2-1 to Colorado on Saturday.
“He was really solid,” Wild forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard said. “He made some key saves for us to keep us in the game. But it would have been fun to give him a couple of goals for support.”
Backstrom was a surprise starter for the Wild. The rookie from Finland is 3-1-1 with a 1.78 GAA, but Wild coach Jacques Lemaire has insisted veteran Manny Fernandez will remain the team’s regular starting goalie.
Fernandez has allowed nine goals in his last two starts. He yielded five in less than two periods on Tuesday, before Backstrom replaced him and made 24 stops in a 7-6 overtime win over Nashville.
Fernandez might return to the lineup on Monday. He is 1-2 with a 2.97 GAA in three games against the Senators, but has not faced them since March, 2002.
Brian Rolston, who leads the Wild with 11 goals and 18 points, is on a season-high four-game goal drought. He also has not scored in his last five games against Ottawa, dating back to Dec. 30, 2003.