What’s this brewing in the Norris — whoops, we mean — Atlantic Division? Is there a rivalry between the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators?
We’ve craved this since the Colorado Avalanche crawled into extinction via a 7-0 blowout in 2002. In recent years, the San Jose Sharks tried to become an enemy with a few cute snow showers, but the battle never got nasty. Now with conference realignment, that’s a lost cause.
But maybe something is budding now — or maybe not, because it takes two to tango, and the Red Wings must prove their toughness Sunday in a rematch against the big, bad Senators, who bullied their way to victory this past Saturday at Joe Louis Arena.
Paul MacLean’s old-school Sens hacked, whacked and attacked Detroit — mixed with a few cheap shots. Chris Neil took a run at Henrik Zetterberg, Marc Methot and Jared Cowen tried to deliberately injure Wings players with dirty hits, Neil took liberty with diminutive Gustav Nyquist, and Cowen dropped Pavel Datsyuk with a blatant elbow to the chin.
And the Wings did nothing about it.
Oh, Brendan Smith tried to fight Neil in the second period, but he hung on for dear life, a victory for the Ottawa goon on the judges’ scorecard. But what’s one fight matter? Much more was needed, considering the Senators continued to slap the Wings across the rink. How about returning the nastiness? Remember Slava Kozlov’s face-plant smash to Adam Foote in the 1996 playoffs? How about Igor Larionov’s headlock of Peter Forsberg on March 26, 1997? It really doesn’t take much to send a message.
That said, someone must hammer Cowen on Sunday for his mugging of Datsyuk. We’ve stated before that we’re not fans of fighting, but there is a need to protect teammates against the stick-swinging, butcher-shop carving Senators, who have zero respect for the Wings’ skilled players.
Goons. Methot high-sticked Smith, lowered his hip and tried to clip the legs of Tomas Tatar, then took a run at Datsyuk. Mark Borowiecki and Neil bullrushed Johan Franzen after a whistle. Chris Phillips knocked Tatar into the net. Kyle Turris slashed Darren Helm in the back of the leg. And Cowen — or should we say “Coward” — took an intent-to-injure run at Helm in the midstages of the second period, high-sticked him in the third period, then deliberately injured Datsyuk.
And you wanna know what’s sick? It worked. Zetterberg and Datsyuk had zero shots through two periods, an effort eerily similar to the Calgary Flames’ clutching, grabbing and holding clinic of the Wings’ superstars in the 2004 playoffs under coach Darryl Sutter.
The Senators, who led the NHL in minor-penalty infractions entering this week, are an extension of MacLean. The Walrus likes this dirty stuff. Hark back to last May’s playoffs when Eric Gryba’s blindside hit bloodied and concussed Montreal Canadiens center Lars Eller. Afterward, MacLean called it “a hockey play that went bad for Eller.” Blatant disrespect.
But MacLean doesn’t care about the opponent, nor do his skaters, and it showed again with their dirty play at Joe Louis Arena.
Truth be told, the Senators’ bullying was a microcosm of the Wings’ struggles in recent postseasons: Not enough grit and muscle. It’s a team-wide weakness that creates losses in critical puck battles, and, an inability to sustain pressure in the attacking zone.
Something has to change soon. Maybe it’s Sunday. Maybe that’s when the Wings show us they’re made of men who are capable of protecting their star players.
If not? Then forget the rivalry, it will just be another Ottawa mugging that will become really, really ugly if they meet in the postseason.