A small, vocal minority of readers on this site chooses to jeer me for focusing disproportionately on the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings in my blogging at the expense of "better", "more successful," or "relevant" teams. Well, it's my blog and I actually have a damn good reason to write about them both today, so ha!
The Sens and Wings are, miraculously, still in the playoff picture at the start of the second week of Lent. (They each gave up playing bad hockey.) And a funny combo of weather and scheduling has conspired to make them the center of the NHL on this Monday and Tuesday. Because of a postponement due to a big winter storm in December, Detroit is playing back-to-back nights in Ottawa, with gigantic implications for both teams and for the rest of the wild card hopefuls. Here's how tight it was heading into Game 1:
The game started well enough for Detroit, as once and future trade bait Tyler Bertuzzi scored the opener to send it into the first intermission 1-0. But the Wings lost control from there. On multiple occasions in the second, they got burned by long passes out of the Senators' own zone, as Claude Giroux and Brady Tkachuk each managed to slip behind the defense for breakaway goals. Add in two power play goals, and two in the third as the Wings looked ground down, and the Sens had themselves a 6-2 win. The results dropped the Wings behind the Islanders in the wild card chase, and the Senators, incredibly, pulled even with last year's Presidents' Trophy–winning Panthers.
This wasn't a win from my favorite genre of silly Senators spoilage, where an obviously superior team looks utterly, inexplicably powerless to hold a lead. Ottawa did in fact genuinely outwork the Wings on this night and deserved their two points. But I had to shake my fist at this Detroit power play late in the second, when they were down 3-2. There were at least five legitimate opportunities to score in this sequence alone, and each time, they ... just ... couldn't ... do it. All they could muster was a little scrum in the crease.
The takeaway from this game is that the particular version of the Ottawa Senators that showed up on Monday is tough. Not long ago, I figured all they had to play for was individual achievement, but Tkachuk and his boys sent a clear message: If they can't make the playoffs, they're at least gonna put some bruises on the teams that do. These Sens wear sunglasses inside. Their pregame meal is sauerkraut and sawdust. They listen to Ride The Lightning and skip "Fade To Black." And they kicked the Red Wings in the teeth. The official hit stats look mostly even, but if there was a stat called "Hits that make you say oooh," then the Sens would have run away with it. The Detroit broadcast's own look at the physicality of the game, midway through the third period, mostly emphasized that Ottawa was full of anger issues.
“They’ve got some big boys,” Detroit captain Dylan Larkin said after the game. “But it’s a wake-up call. We’ll be ready for that tomorrow.”
Right, tomorrow! Which is actually today! Sorry to everyone who lost power in Ottawa back in December, but it is extremely cool that this game gets a sequel just 24 hours later, where Detroit can look for a measure of revenge and to put themselves right back on the necks of Buffalo and Pittsburgh. They'll be starting their better goalie, Ville Husso, and they'll know to glare at those mean, ugly Sens right from the start.
That said, this is a Wings team that's struggled to create chances at 5-on-5 even during this odd little late-winter hot streak, and they're going up against a top-five power play in the NHL. The Wings have to be careful not to lose track of the real goal: goals. They don't give out points for giving your opponents black eyes, and if Detroit comes out angling for a wrestling match they might just lose another hockey game in the process.