Pittsburg Penguins Evgeni Malkin (17), of Russia, is checked by Ottawa Senators Anton Vochenkov (24) of Russia during first period hockey between the Ottawa Senators and the Pittsburg Penquins in Ottawa, December 6 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators got more bang out of their big guns than the Pittsburgh Penguins did on Saturday.
In a matinee matchup before a sold-out Scotiabank Place crowd of 19, 561, Senators coach Craig Hartsburg and Penguins coach Michel Therrien created a marquee matchup, pitting the Senators' top line of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson skating opposite the Penguins' one-two punch of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby with Petr Sykora riding shotgun.
The result: Ottawa came out on top with a 3-2 victory courtesy of Spezza's second career hat trick and the Senators (10-10-4) won for the fourth time in five games to climb back to the .500 mark for the first time in a month.
"Hartsy challenged us before the game and said that we'd be matched up against them," Spezza said. "It's definitely nice to contribute on a big stage like this and get some confidence back.
"It's a big game for us. Now we have to build on it."
Spezza notched all three of his goals on Penguins starting goaltender Dany Sabourin in the second period, staking Ottawa to 2-0 and 3-1 leads.
The Senators held on to hand Pittsburgh (15-7-4) its second loss in three games.
"We didn't start well and Spezza had his big second period and gave them the lead. It's a matter of momentum a lot of times," said Crosby, who had an assist to extend his point-scoring streak to six games, during which he has six goals and nine assists.
However, it was an otherwise frustrating day for Crosby and Co. In 10 career regular-season games against Ottawa, he has just one goal.
"We forced them to play a lot in their own end," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who left the game briefly in the second period after blocking a shot with his left foot but returned in time to set up Spezza's second goal.
Dany Heatley added a pair of assists and Alex Auld made 17 saves for Ottawa, which ran its regular-season record to 12-1-5 in its past 18 games against Pittsburgh.
Malkin and Jordan Staal each had a goal and an assist for the Penguins, who were playing for the third time in four days, and Sabourin stopped 28 shots.
The Senators remained unbeaten in their new black-based third jersey. Since the shirt made its debut on Nov. 22, Ottawa is 4-0 when sporting it.
Chris Neil was back in the Senators' lineup for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee to repair a torn meniscus, a procedure that sidelined him for the past six games.
Also returning was defenceman Alexandre Picard, who missed two games with a wrist injury.
With Malkin and Crosby, who've both been playing centre, coming into the game ranked 1-2 in NHL scoring with 41 and 39 points, respectively, it seemed Ottawa's big job would be to try and contain the double threat, particularly if they were united.
"We were going to play head-to-head against these guys and if they were going to play together, we were going to play (opposite)," Spezza said.
Their first shift resulted in a Pittsburgh 3-on-1 that failed to result in a shot after Malkin lost the handle after a pass from Crosby, but the Senators settled down after that and rose to the task.
"It's fun to play those games and a big challenge to play two of the best players in the world," Alfredsson said. "You've got to be on your toes every shift."
It was Ottawa's big three that opened the scoring at the 4:01 mark of the second after Alfredsson blocked a shot at the Senators' blue-line. While he was skating to the bench in pain, Spezza broke down the wing and had his first shot blocked by Sabourin, but picked up his own rebound and scored on a wraparound.
Down 2-0, the Penguins cut Ottawa's lead to a goal with Spezza in the penalty box for hooking, when Staal redirected a pass in the slot from Crosby.
Spezza completed his hat trick in the final minute of the period, banking a pass attempt off a skate and in.
"Sometimes when you're hot, you find the spot or get some bounces," Sabourin said of Spezza's outing.
The last time he scored three goals in a game was Feb. 9, 2008, in a 6-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
He now has six goals in his last five games.
"Our line has done a good job of finding each other and we're starting to come together a little bit," Spezza said.
With the Senators on the power play midway through the third, defenceman Brendan Bell gave the puck away to Staal at the Penguins' blue-line and he sent Malkin in alone to be beat Auld and make it 3-2, but that was as close as Pittsburgh could get.
"We didn't give up," Crosby said. "Obviously, we didn't want to be in that situation, down two in the third, but we tried battling at the end there and couldn't pull it off."
Notes: It was 18 years ago, on Dec. 6, 1990, that the NHL awarded the Senators franchise to Ottawa. ...Senators centre Dean McAmmond missed his fourth straight game with the flu. ...Defenceman Christoph Schubert was a healthy scratch for Ottawa. ...The Senators next game is Monday night at home to the Florida Panthers. ...Centre Mike Zigomanis, who ranked second in the NHL in faceoff percentage, winning 62.9 per cent of his faceoffs, was a scratch for the Penguins. ...Pittsburgh returns home to face the Buffalo Sabres, also on Monday.