ATLANTA — Antoine Vermette scored the tie-breaking goal early in the third period, Brian Elliott won his NHL debut in goal and the Ottawa Senators remained unbeaten with a 3-1 victory over the winless Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday night.
The Senators improved to 5-0, just one win off the franchise record for most consecutive victories at the start of the season. Ottawa won its first six games in 2005-06, and began 2000-01 by going unbeaten in nine.
Then there’s Atlanta, which hardly looks like the defending Southeast Division champion. The Thrashers have lost their first three games, managing just four goals.
Chris Kelly gave the Senators a quick lead, scoring an unassisted goal on the first shot of the game. Ilya Kovalchuk tied it for Atlanta with his first of the season, but Vermette scored the winner with 18:18 remaining. Chris Phillips cleared the Ottawa zone with long pass off the boards, and Vermette hustled past the Thrashers defense to beat Kari Lehtonen with a blistering shot over the goalie’s glove hand from the left faceoff circle.
Elliott, the 291st overall pick in the 2003 entry draft, claimed a spot on the Ottawa roster while Ray Emery recovers from offseason wrist surgery. The rookie watched Martin Gerber put up a 1.73 goals-against average in the first four games, then finally got his shot.
Elliott stopped 27 shots, including a brilliant save on Alexei Zhitnik about a minute after Vermette’s goal. The Thrashers defenseman got free at the side of the net on a give-and-go pass, but Elliott sprawled back with his right pad to keep the puck out.
It was tough night for Zhitnik. Later in the third, he was sent off for hooking; just 18 seconds later, Joe Corvo scored on the power play with a screened shot from just inside the blue line that dipped under Lehtonen’s blocker.
Atlanta tried to get heat on the rookie, but its best chance clanked off the post.
Kelly put the Senators ahead at just 1:14 of the first, taking advantage when Thrashers defenseman Ken Klee got tangled up at the blue line. Kelly beat him to the puck and fired a wrist shot past Lehtonen for a rather soft goal.
Kovalchuk answered about 5« minutes later. He knocked the puck away from one Ottawa player at the blue line, stole it away from another along the boards and ripped a shot over Elliott’s left elbow before Phillips could get over to help.
The Thrashers got a scare later in the period when Kovalchuk went off holding his right arm after taking a hit on the shoulder but returned for the start of the next period.