OTTAWA – On the day Daniel Alfredsson returned to Ottawa, the Senators got yet another reminder that things aren’t the same this season without him.
Despite an empty-net goal and an assist, Alfredsson wasn’t primarily responsible for the Senators’ second straight loss and fourth straight at home. But in helping the Detroit Red Wings to a 4-2 victory Sunday night at Canadian Tire Centre, the long-time captain contributed to the continuation of his former team’s woes.
“The result makes it a lot sweeter,” said Alfredsson, who was named the third star in his return. “You could tell our team was motivated today and played hard and I thought we got better as the game went on. But if we would have lost, for me personally I think it would still have been a night I’ll always remember.”
Like so many times in their previous 27 games in the post-Alfredsson era, something was just missing for the Senators (10-13-4). Botched line changes hurt badly.
“They catch us on three line changes and they get the odd-man rush and they don’t miss,” Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. “They’re a team that if you give them those opportunities, they’re going to take advantage of them. They took what we gave them and they made it the difference in the game.”
The other difference was Ottawa’s power-less power play, which went 0-for-4 and put up just four shots.
“We couldn’t really establish anything off the entries, and that’s why we couldn’t really get set up,” defenceman Erik Karlsson said. “We just had to chase the puck the whole time.”
And when the Red Wings had the puck at even strength, they got the job done. Alfredsson assisted on Johan Franzen’s opening goal for Detroit (14-7-7), and Drew Miller scored twice.
Clarke MacArthur scored his eighth goal of the season for the Senators, and Mika Zibanejad made things interesting late, but it wasn’t enough to make them a perfect 3-0 against the Red Wings this season. Ottawa won the first two meetings, both coming at Joe Louis Arena.
“It was important for our team. We had dropped the ball, the first time we played against them we played poorly,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It was important to respond here today, for Alfie and for the guys. The guys care about him, they wanted him to have a big night here.”
Alfredsson had himself a night with his 590th and 591st points in his 596th game in Ottawa. The empty-net goal brought boos from the crowd of 20,011, but it generated plenty of relief for the Red Wings.
“It was nice kind of to seal the game there,” Alfredsson said. “They were pushing, and I was thinking, ‘Here comes the Pesky Sens again.’ But we were lucky to get a good bounce there.”
The Senators were the “Pesky Sens” last year when they managed to find ways to win despite injuries to Karlsson, centre Jason Spezza, goaltender Craig Anderson and others. This season, they’ve struggled mightily.
Sunday was another painful example of those problems.
“At the end of the day we didn’t do enough to win,” MacLean said. “Is that playing harder? Is that work ethic? Is that being smarter? It’s all of the above, I would say. But we can just categorize it I guess under one term is that we need to play harder.”
And, ideally, better at home. Their last win at Canadian Tire Centre was Nov. 15.
“It seems like we got a little block at home,” MacArthur said. “I think one thing goes wrong and then another thing goes wrong, and then we start to tighten up. I don’t know if it’s shutting our brains off for periods during the game, but we made a couple mental errors and it’s one of those nights where it’s a good team and they capitalize.”
With all the Senators’ flaws, MacLean refused to pin any blame on goaltender Robin Lehner, who made 19 saves on 22 shots.
“We have no issue with Robin’s game. None,” MacLean said. “I don’t have any issue with that. The line changes, the opportunities they got, oh yeah we’d like one more save and one more play, but to be honest with you they were pretty good opportunities for them.”
Red Wings goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who like Alfredsson is a native of Gothenburg, Sweden, made 29 saves for the victory.
The pre-game fanfare was all about Alfredsson, who spent 17 seasons with the Senators, including the final 14 as their captain. The game only got underway after a 67-second video tribute to Alfredsson that was accompanied by “Alfie” chants and a standing ovation.
“It was fun to see the ovation he got,” said Karlsson, who drove to the rink with Alfredsson. “It’s probably nice to get it over with as well for him. I think the fans handled it really well and gave him the applause he deserved and then during the game they cheered for the Sens as normally.”
There wasn’t much to cheer for. After a lacklustre first period, Alfredsson was involved in the scoring when it began in the second.
Alfredsson gave the puck to defenceman Jakub Kindl as the Red Wings caught the Senators on an odd-man rush. With only defenceman Erik Karlsson back, Franzen had Henrik Zetterberg with him and Alfredsson trailing but decided to shoot and beat Lehner at the 8:22 mark of the second.
It was Franzen’s seventh goal of the season and Alfredsson’s 14th assist.
Miller made it 2-0 Red Wings at the 11:13 mark, taking a pass from Tomas Tatar and firing a one-timer past a sliding Lehner.
The Senators answered just over three minutes later on a flurry around Gustavsson. Milan Michalek followed his shot to the net and knocked the puck loose and right to MacArthur, who broke up the shutout at 14:14.
Miller was the beneficiary of some messy play by the Senators on his second goal of the game. Detroit defenceman Brendan Smith managed to stick-handle and pull everyone to him, leaving Miller wide open to put the puck into an empty net.
“Those are the easy ones,” Miller said. “Those are the ones you’d like to get more often than not.”
It was the Red Wings’ fourth straight victory. They haven’t lost since the Senators beat them in Detroit on Nov. 23.
NOTES—Defenceman Marc Methot was a late scratch for the Senators with the flu, the team announced. Coach Paul MacLean indicated before the game that Jared Cowen would be a healthy scratch for a second straight game. Instead Cowen replaced Methot in the lineup. … Alfredsson finished with 16:33 of ice time.