10/23/2013 at 10:17pm EDT
Any way you slice it, tonight's game was an important one for the Ottawa Senators. It was a chance to get an important two points against a division rival, a chance to bounce back on the road after a home loss in a game they probably should have won, and a chance to avoid falling behind early in the Atlantic division.
Of course, all that ignores the elephant in the room. The fact is, even though a lot of the Sens players had avoided talking about it, or said they weren't thinking about it, this was probably a night they've had circled on their calendar's since the middle of the summer for one reason. Daniel Alfredsson.
All eyes were on the game in Detroit tonight. In the media, endless ink has been spilled leading up to this game about what Alfie meant to Ottawa, how and why he left, and what it would mean for the long time captain to meet his former team. You've all seen it, I'm not even going to link to it. Tonight it was all about what was going to happen on the ice at the Joe, a place where the Senators haven't won a game since 2006 – and, to the surprise of some, it was the Senators that took the initiative.
The Senators set the tone early, culminating in Eric Gryba's early goal on a nice feed from the recently recalled Mika Zibanejad. Gryba had a big hit pinching in from the blue line to start the play and Zibanejad one a battle behind the net to put it to Gryba in the clear. The Senators seemed buoyed by the Goal and continued to skate hard, with Kyle Turris drawing two quick penalties and the Sens making the Wings pay both times – first on a hooking call against Kronwall, Jason Spezza given a touch to much respect as he patrolled the half wall that would have once belonged to Alfredsson on the Sens powerplay. The new captain had all the time in the world to slap it past Howard for an early two goal lead. On a second call against Kyle Quincey, it was Alfredsson's replacement as Ottawa's number one right wing Bobby Ryan with a goal scorer's goal to make it 3-0. It was enough to end Howard's night, though he probably couldn't have been blamed for the goals.
The special teams battle was joined when the Wings got their first powerplay and the oft maligned Gryba undid some of his good work on the first Senators goal when lost Todd Bertuzzi behind the net. Bert wrapped around the net and beat Anderson five hole to get the Wings back within 2.
In the second frame, Jason Spezza continued to establish himself as the storyline when he beat Pavel Datsyuk to the rebound from his own shot of the active backboards and beat Gustavsson. The Wings looked surprisingly listless – and Ottawa wasn't going to let up. The beating continued in the third, with Goals first from Jared Cowen, and then Bobby Ryan with his second on an odd man rush that ended with a tap in to make it 6-1.
The wings faithful voted with their feet.
Meanwhile, it was catharsis for Sens fans:
The storyline that flies under the radar? This was only the second time Paul MacLean has returned to Detroit since he left Mike Babcock's side to become the head coach of the Sens. Last time he was only a few games into his first tenure as head coach, and it was a bad beat. This time, he came back firmly ensconced and with a Jack Adams trophy on his mantle to prove it and he laid a beating of his own.
The Sens hadn't given Maclean much to smile about lately...
But he's likely one of the happiest guys in the building tonight.
Interviewed after the game, Spezza said it was a big game against a division opponent, but not a statement game. He ignores the elephant in the room, but he knows its a long season and the Wings will visit Ottawa in December. He knows they weren't at their best tonight.
For now, though, it's satisfaction for Sens fans.