It wasn’t the start that the Red Wings were looking for in Friday’s season-opener. But it was good enough to earn two-points in the standings.
Despite surrendering three unanswered goals in the third period, goalie Jimmy Howard made 35 saves and Drew Miller and rookie Cory Emmerton each had two-point performances as the Wings managed to secure a 5-3 opening victory over the visiting Ottawa Senators at Joe Louis Arena.
“I thought they were better than us early,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “They came out really skating and really working. I knew that they would come out prepared, and I didn’t think that we came out as urgent as we should have. The bottom half of our lineup was better than our top half of our lineup, in the fact that they came out and worked, and forechecked and scored the goals.”
In a show of support, the Red Wings paid an emotional tribute to fallen friends Brad McCrimmon, Ruslan Salei and Stefan Liv, who were among 44 people killed when the Russian jetliner that they were passengers on crashed shortly after takeoff last month.
After the team was introduced to the sold-out Joe Louis Arena crowd, players’ wives and families walked out onto a red carpet in front of the Wings’ bench. Then, the crowd was introduced to the McCrimmon family – Brad’s wife, Maureen, daughter Carlin, and son Liam. The family was met at center line by Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who presented Maureen with roses, and Brad’s children with a pair of McCrimmon No. 2 jerseys.
Once the game started, Lidstrom’s career games-played flipped to 1,495, tying him with Phil Housley for fifth among all-time NHL defensemen. Only retired defensemen Chris Chelios (1,651), Scott Stevens (1,635), Larry Murphy (1,615) and Ray Bourque (1,612) have played more games then the Wings’ captain.
Early on it was evident who was coaching the Senators. Former Wings assistant Paul MacLean – in his first season at the helm of the Senators – had his young squad playing similarly to the Wings’ style, and making it difficult for Detroit’s defensemen to get pucks up to the forwards.
And early on, it was Ottawa with the best scoring chance. Sens center Jason Spezza received a pass from behind the net, but misfired on a wide-open opportunity to give the Senators an early lead.
But it was the Wings, who eventually struck first when they victimized the Sens on a line-change late in the period. As both teams made changes, center Darren Helm spotted Todd Bertuzzi, who jumped over the boards, sneaking behind Ottawa’s Sergei Gonchar. Helm weaved a beautiful two-line pass that sent Bertuzzi in alone on goalie Craig Anderson. Bertuzzi then cruised to the low slot before beating Anderson above his left catching glove at 16:01.
Detroit went on a relentless offensive strike from start to finish in this period. Firing 16 shots in the period, the Wings built a commanding 4-0 lead with a three-goal outburst by Lidstrom, Emmerton and Jiri Hudler.
The Wings grabbed an early 2-0 lead in the period when Bertuzzi turned a physical play into a turnover that Lidstrom used to score his first of the season. Sens defenseman Chris Phillips tried to make a pass from behind his own net when Bertuzzi hammered him against the boards. Phillips – who had a league-worst minus-35 rating last season – sent an ill-advised blind pass into the left circle where Lidstrom pinched in and fired a shot that beat Anderson at 1:39.
“I was actually just pinching on their forward, trying to keep the puck in if it ended up on his stick,” Lidstrom said. “But the pass to him was a little bit off and I jumped in front of it, and there really wasn’t anyone coming at me.”
Jimmy Howard’s shutout stayed intact with a pair of quality saves. The first was on center Zack Smith, who pushed a shot from close-range that slid under Howard’s pads and out the right side. Later on, Spezza was set-up by Gonchar, but Howard made perhaps his best save of the night, stopping Spezza’s backhand.
The Wings scored twice in a 58-second span, burning the Sens on back-to-back turnovers. The first turnover was the result of another bad line-change when the Sens didn’t get back in time to help out Erik Karlsson, who was hassled by Drew Miller.
Miller picked the young defenseman’s pocket from behind the Sens’ net, and zipped a pass in front to Emmerton, who scored his second career goal in just his third NHL game at 9:40.
“We didn't do that much in the first period,” Miller said. “We got to the forecheck and starting getting the puck. We want to provide that kind of energy all season long, be good on the forecheck and wear on their defense. That led to a few goals.”
Less then a minute later, Datsyuk stole the puck from young defenseman Jared Cowen at the blue line. Datsyuk took a few steps toward the net, shoveled a pass to Hudler, who popped a backhand over Anderson.
“I thought Emmerton was really strong down the middle on our fourth line and Miller played well on that group,” Babcock said. “And I thought the Helm line was very dominant and so we know the rest is going to come together. But if those two groups can play like that, we’re off to the race.”
After 40-minutes, the Wings had out-shot the Sens, 27-21.
Hudler had a great change for his second goal of the night, but Anderson made a magnificent glove save. However, it wasn’t long before the Wings stretched their lead to 5-0. It was on the ensuing face-off, won by Emmerton that newcomer Ian White scored his first goal as a Wing, firing a shot from the right point at 3:12.
The Senators got on the board, twice, when Spezza and Milan Michalek combined on a pair of nifty scores.
The first goal was set-up by Spezza, whose shot ricocheted off of Michalek’s right skate and was re-directed past Howard.
Michalek’s second goal, on the power-play, was the result of a speedy rush started by Karlsson in the Sens’ zone. Spezza split the Wings’ defense, made a pretty pass to Michalek, who moved in, waited for Howard to commit with his stick, before going to the backhand that beat the Wings’ goalie at 8:22.
Ottawa scored another late power-play goal, when Filip Kuba’s shot from the left point found its way past a screen in front of Howard.
“I didn’t like the way we played the third,” Babcock said. “It’s something that we have to get past, being lackadaisical and suddenly the other team is back in the game. I’m not trying to take anything away from Ottawa, but there’s no way you should do that to your goalie when he’s done a good job for you. … It’s just unnecessary.”