DETROIT – Jason Spezza and Bobby Ryan most exemplified the Ottawa Senators’ transition from the Daniel Alfredsson era.
Spezza was tasked with taking over for Alfredsson as captain, and Ryan with filling the void as a scoring winger. In the Senators’ first game against Alfredsson and the Detroit Red Wings, Spezza and Ryan fittingly spearheaded an impressive offensive display in a 6-1 blowout at Joe Louis Arena.
Those performances made it easier to forget about Alfredsson.
“Bobby Ryan gets two and Jason gets two, and I thought Erik Karlsson was a force in the game, as well,” coach Paul MacLean said. “We played the game tonight and we end up winning it, a big win for us on the road. It had little to do with Daniel.”
Defenceman Chris Phillips called it “just another game,” but there was no denying the added significance of facing the former face of the franchise. It’s impossible to fill the Alfredsson void completely, but leave it up to Spezza and Ryan to try.
Spezza, who made it clear he understood fans paying closer attention to this game, was rolling offensively. He scored his first goal on the power play by shooting through a triple screen and the legs of Detroit defenceman Brian Lashoff, and later on banked the puck off the glass and corralled it to get his second.
“I felt good tonight,” said Spezza, who has seven goals and three assists in 10 games. “I thought I moved well, and when I move well usually I play well.”
It was the eighth regular-season game that Spezza served as captain. Understandably this was the biggest because it came against the man who wore the “C” on his chest for 14 seasons, and Spezza shined in that spotlight.
“I think it’s good to play well in a big game,” he said. “I think that taking over the captaincy is just all about learning every day for me and learning how to become a good captain in this league. I was trying to learn under Alfie when he was here, and it’s always something that I wanted. Now that I have the ‘C,’ it’s a matter of trying to learn through different situations and be consistent.”
As a team, it was the Senators’ most consistent, complete effort of the season. Mika Zibanejad made an early impact in his first game of the season with an assist on Eric Gryba’s goal, and Anderson made 31 saves on 32 shots.
But someone had to put the puck in the net, and Ryan makes a habit of doing that better than anyone else on the roster. The four-time 30-goal scorer put up his fifth and sixth of the season against Detroit, chasing goaltender Jimmy Howard in the first period and beating Jonas Gustavsson in the third.
The Senators softened the blow of Alfredsson signing in Detroit by acquiring Ryan in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks the same day. Ryan knows the comparison will continue to be made, but he’s not the one doing it.
“I think we’re two completely different players—he’s leaving at a part of his career where he’s winding down and I’m kind of entering that area where you start to figure yourself out as a player,” Ryan said. “We’re completely different dynamics, I think.”
Although they weren’t traded for each other like Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin—more accurately the draft pick that the Boston Bruins used to take him—Ryan and Alfredsson are offensive-minded right-wingers, so the connection isn’t going to stop.
“It’s a natural, it’s an easy comparison for you guys, I understand it,” Ryan said. “But nobody’s going to do what he did there.”
Alfredsson spent a lot of time this week addressing what he did in Ottawa, his departure after 17 seasons with the Senators and his fit with the Red Wings. No longer the spokesman for a team, the 40-year-old spoke for himself after a game in which he was generally a non-factor, finishing with two shots and two penalty minutes in 16 minutes 12 seconds of ice time.
“It was obviously a different game today, the way it turned out,” Alfredsson said. “It didn’t feel too crazy. Warm-up was what it was. Once the game going, you’re really into it. It was unfortunate the game it was it didn’t really turn into a good battle, which I expected.”
Instead, Alfredsson and the Red Wings were left to lament their third straight loss in which he said the team looked slow. Coach Mike Babcock said his team didn’t look very good but didn’t know if that was a product of distraction.
“I’ve got no idea,” he said. “We’re not going to know the answer to that anyway. We can all speculate. The bottom line is we were no good here today. It’s not like I saw it coming, it’s not like I think our play is falling off or anything. I was surprised to say the least. Disappointed for Alfie that we couldn’t have done a better job.”
By comparison, the Senators did about as good a job as they could have, building off a strong performance in a loss to the Edmonton Oilers and getting rewarded for it.
“I think we finally played a full, 60-minute game,” Ryan said. “We’ve seemed to put parts of it together in the past and gotten away from it, and tonight we didn’t. Even when we got up a few, we kept the pedal down, and that was important.”
It was important for the Senators to put forth a good effort in an Atlantic Division game, even this early in the season. They were smiling much more about that than beating Alfredsson.
“To beat the elite teams can give you confidence as a group,” Spezza said. “We feel Detroit’s one of the best teams in our division and to beat them, hopefully we can use this as a bit of springboard to play better hockey.”
NOTES—Patrick Wiercioch was a healthy scratch on defence for the Senators, as Joe Corvo played his fourth game of the season. … Niklas Kronwall was considered questionable to play after taking a puck to the face during Detroit’s morning skate. The Red Wings called up defenceman Xavier Ouellet as a precaution, but he was made a healthy scratch.
Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at @SWhyno.