Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. left, watches the puck as Ottawa Senators right winger Jonathan Cheechoo tries to screen the shot during the first period of the NHL hockey game in Buffalo, N.Y. on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2009. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Don Heupel)
BUFFALO, N.Y. - Neither weather nor the absence of two of their top offensive players could stop the Ottawa Senators.
Alex Kovalev and Mike Fisher scored in the shootout, and the Senators beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Saturday night after being stuck in Ottawa the entire morning.
The Senators, who didn't land in Buffalo until around noon after their flight was delayed because of freezing rain, rebounded from an 8-2 loss Wednesday night at Pittsburgh. They played their first game without both captain Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, who has been out with a knee injury.
Alfredsson separated his shoulder in the first period against the Penguins and will be lost for at least a month.
"It was a different day today," said Pascal Leclaire, who made 20 saves before stopping Thomas Vanek and Tim Connolly in the shootout. "With our key guys missing, we obviously have to step up a little bit. Everybody goes through it, but it's up to the guys that are playing to raise our game a little bit."
Because of the bad weather, the Senators were unable to skate in the morning after having the past two days off due to the Christmas break. They found their legs early, though, outshooting the Sabres by a whopping 19-1 margin in the first period.
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller was the only reason why the period ended scoreless, but his sparkling play didn't frustrate the Senators, who won for the seventh straight time over the Sabres.
"We play them tough, and we play them well," said Fisher, who snapped a wrist shot over Miller's glove in the second round of the shootout. "We seem to not give them a whole lot. We're ready for the challenge against them."
Kovalev beat Miller in the first round with a nifty backhand off a deke that also went over the goalie's glove.
"We came out with a lot of energy," Fisher said. "We pressed their defencemen, and they didn't have much time. They turned the puck over and we capitalized on that. If it wasn't for Miller we'd have had a few in the first."
Ryan Shannon and Chris Neil scored in regulation for the Senators (19-15-4).
Vanek and Jason Pominville scored, and Miller finished with 38 saves for the sliding Sabres (22-11-4). They are 2-2-2 since an 8-2-0 spurt.
"We can't react to teams and what they want to do," Miller said. "We have to dictate play. A point's OK. When you get to a shootout it's a toss-up."
The Sabres were without centre Derek Roy for the final 15 minutes of regulation as well as the entire overtime after he sustained an upper-body injury after absorbing a check by Senators centre Jesse Winchester while attempting a shot from the left circle. He'll be evaluated on Sunday in Buffalo, and won't be with the team for Sunday night's game in St. Louis.
After a scoreless first period, the Senators struck first when Shannon recorded his first of the year at 5:15 of the second period. Kovalev's pass from the right circle went off Shannon's stick and Buffalo defenceman Steve Montador's body before going in.
Less than a minute later Neil picked up his fifth of the season when he jammed home a rebound from in tight to make it 2-0.
Vanek cut the Ottawa lead in half with his 11th with 2:45 left in the second when his slapshot from the right faceoff dot went in, and Pominville tied it with 41.9 seconds left while the Sabres enjoyed a 4-on-3 power play.
"We're just doing things too slow," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Our puck movement hasn't been good enough. We just didn't make enough good plays."
NOTES: Ottawa recalled Ryan Keller from Binghamton of the AHL to replace Alfredsson. ... Vanek returned after missing the past three games because of soreness in his midsection. ... The Senators held the Sabres to one shot on goal in the first period of a 4-2 win on March 17, 2009. ... Montador registered Buffalo's only shot in the first with 2:36 to go.