Maybe Daniel Alfredsson was right all along.
The Red Wings and Senators were pretty even to most at the time. Both finished seventh in their respect conferences. Ottawa upset the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, while Detroit did a number on the Anaheim Ducks.
Both the Senators and Red Wings were knocked out in the second round with Detroit taking the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks to a seventh and deciding game.
The Senators had more room to grow; they were such a good story last season. They survived long-term injuries to key players like Jason Spezza
, Erik Karlsson
, goalie Craig Anderson and Milan Michalek and pushed themselves into the playoffs. They added a dependable sniper in Bobby Ryan
on the same day Alfredsson bolted for Detroit.
The thinking was that even without Alfredsson, Ryan made Ottawa even better.
But did anybody believe the Senators would be in this much trouble without Alfredsson? The beloved former Senators captain made a triumphant return to the Nation's Capital on Sunday -- where he played for 17 seasons and captained for the last 13 -- and Detroit looked like the team that had an 11-point advantage in the standings.
In the Wings' 4-2 victory
, Alfredsson scored an empty-netter and had the secondary assist on Detroit's opening goal from Johan Franzen.
It was the Red Wings' fifth win in six games. The Senators now have lost six of eight and a playoff spot will require a minimum 65 points in their remaining 55 games.
The Senators are a sloppy team these days. They're an adventure in their own end. They're loose defensively in the neutral zone, and they're not playing with speed. They're also not burying chances in the offensive end of the rink.
Ryan was supposed to be part of the mix with Alfredsson. When Alfredsson bolted he was replaced by Clarke MacArthur
, who scored in the loss to the Red Wings. He's been solid with eight goals and 20 points in 26 games, which is one more goal and one fewer points than Alfredsson has in 23 outings.
This was the first time in three games Detroit has beaten the Senators. But Alfredsson could not have asked for a smoother return. His family arrived back in Ottawa to visit family and friends earlier in the week, while he and the Red Wings arrived on Friday.
After practice on Saturday, he spent time with local reporters trying to explain his emotions. He was anxious to see what would transpire.
It turns out the Senators were the perfect hosts for the homecoming. Even owner Eugene Melnyk, bitter that Alfredsson left five move months ago, hinted in a pre-game interview with TSN that the organization likely will retire his sweater No. 11.
Alfredsson walked into the Canadian Tire Centre with Karlsson. When they approached the entrance to the visitors' dressing room, Karlsson gave his former teammate a hug and then continued his walk down the hall to the Senators' room.
Plenty of emotion
There was plenty of emotion in the building beginning with the warm-up. The largest crowd of the season at 20,011 showed up. The fans, for the most part, treated him warmly. Alfredsson acknowledged some fans that shouted at him from the stands in the warm-up. He also looked up at his wife and four sons, who all wore Detroit sweaters, as they watched from a luxury suite.
Before the game, there was a wonderful short and sweet scoreboard video tribute, set to U2's Beautiful Day. The video honoured Alfredsson's on-ice accomplishments and local charity work.
The crowd gave Aldredsson a rousing ovation
. After that, it was a usual game with the Senators making it easy for their former captain on the ice.
Some fans began to jeer Alfredsson when he touched the puck late in the second period. He didn't mind.
"They should stick up for their team, and that's what they're doing," said Alfredsson, who was named third star and scooped up the puck as a keepsake after the final buzzer sounded.
"It's hard to describe," Alfredsson said, when asked about the ovation before the game. "How do you feel you deserve to be cheered on like that after all you do is play hockey? It's kind of surreal at times to have that feeling.
"I really appreciate the gesture from the Sens organization and the fans. It's extremely humbling."
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