It took all of 27 seconds for Alexei Zhamnov to be reintroduced to the new-look NHL.
Zhamnov, playing in his first game of the season last night, won the opening draw against Ottawa center Jason Spezza. But the quick-strike Senators regained the puck, roared past Zhamnov and his teammates, and Dany Heatley netted his first of two goals at 0:27 in Ottawa's 5-2 victory.
''No question, it's a little frustrating to play the first shift and they score a goal," said Zhamnov. ''But we have to learn and look forward."
The Bruins, who signed Zhamnov to a three-year contract Aug. 4, had the 35-year-old pegged as their No. 2 center behind Joe Thornton to give the club added creativity and experience up front. But Zhamnov, who was expected to center Sergei Samsonov on the second line, suffered a shoulder injury in the final exhibition against the New York Rangers and missed the first 17 games.
He probably picked the wrong team to return against -- a club stacked with clever forwards, thorough defensemen, and a world-class goalie in Dominik Hasek.
''They're a good team," Zhamnov said. ''They have a lot of speed and a lot of skilled players."
Speed and skill are two adjectives the Bruins had for their prized free agent entering the season. Before the game, coach Mike Sullivan called Zhamnov a top-tier player. Last night, while Zhamnov said he felt fine during the game and had no setbacks to report afterward, he acknowledged it wasn't his best performance and hoped to play better in the next game, tomorrow against the Islanders at Uniondale, N.Y.
His final line: three shots, no points, and a minus-3 over 13 minutes 52 seconds of action. During even-strength situations, Zhamnov mostly skated between Shawn McEachern and Patrice Bergeron on the second line, mostly going head-to-head with an Ottawa trio centered by Antoine Vermette. On the power play, Zhamnov manned the left point, playing with Kevin Dallman or Jiri Slegr. Zhamnov played only 25 seconds killing penalties, forced to sit on the bench while the Bruins staved off 10 power plays, including five in Ottawa's three-goal second period.
''I didn't play many shifts five on five," Zhamnov said. ''It was difficult for me to find a flow. I don't play a lot of PK. But I think the next game I'll be much better."
Although Zhamnov's line opened the game against Ottawa's run-and-gun top threesome, Sullivan went away from the matchup the rest of the game, sending out Joe Thornton's trio whenever Heatley, Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson rolled over the bench. Zhamnov had his first man-advantage action after Ottawa defenseman Andrej Meszaros was called for hooking at 8:05 of the first period, playing the point alongside Dallman.
Early in the second period, Zhamnov had his best scoring chance when he sliced through the slot and tipped Hal Gill's point shot, but Hasek stopped the redirection with his pad. Minutes later, however, Zhamnov, playing the point during the Bruins' second power play, made an error when he allowed Ottawa penalty killer Martin Havlat to sneak behind him and charge toward Andrew Raycroft for a breakaway. Havlat hit the post with his backhander, but winger Peter Schaefer, trailing the play, banged home the rebound for a shorthanded strike and the winning goal at 6:38.
Zhamnov's subpar defensive outing came to a close a little more than three minutes later when the Senators scored at even strength. The Senators charged the net, blowing past Zhamnov and his fellow backcheckers, and Havlat netted his eighth of the season to give Ottawa a 4-1 advantage. The goal capped a rotten period for Zhamnov: four shifts, 3:47 of ice time, two goals allowed while he was on the ice.
Zhamnov looked more comfortable in the third period, when he got off two more shots, the first when he batted the rebound of a Slegr shot that Hasek punched out with his blocker, and the second while playing three on three with Thornton and Dallman, when Hasek blocked his close-range wrister.
''I think the next game I'll be much better," Zhamnov said. ''It was the first game. To be honest, I was a little nervous. It's normal."