Detroit Red Wings forward Andrew Copp was the model of diplomacy when discussing his team’s Saturday road game against the Ottawa Senators. No mention of how the Senators crushed the Red Wings confidence last season by dominating them physically and on the scoreboard in back-to-back games last February.
The Red Wings went into those games with a 28-21-8 record and left town with 6-2 and 6-1 losses and the memory of Brady Tkachuk having too good of a time at their expense.
“After last year we just want to put our best foot forward,” Copp said when asked about the matinee game on Saturday.
Copp is too much of a professional to provide any bulletin board material. But you have to believe that Copp and other Red Wings, in the back of their minds, are thinking like actor Randy Quaid in the movie Independence Day: “I’ve been dying for some payback,” the Quaid character says at one point.
“It’s two teams that feel like they’re on the rise and feel like they’re on the cusp of becoming a playoff team year over year,” Copp really said. “They’ll be some battles for sure. We want to play a good hockey game. I think we’re trending in the right direction right now. We’re feeling good about our game, but that’ll be another test.”
That’s a realistic analysis of the situation: Detroit general manager Steve Yzerman said last season that his team really was in competition against the Buffalo Sabres and Senators because they were all in rebuild mode.
The Sabres and Senators seemed ahead in the race because they had been at it longer and had drafted earlier than the Red Wings. The Senators have first rounders like Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle and Jake Sanderson, while Detroit has first rounders like Dylan Larkin, Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider. This may turn out to be a quality rivalry.
First Place at Stake
Four games into this season, the Red Wings and Senators are tied for first place in the Atlantic Division with 3-1 records. Ottawa’s goal-differential is +9 and Detroit is +8.
Coach Derek Lalonde isn’t buying that the game has added meaning because division games are always important.
“No. I don’t think it’s much different than what we seen there,” Lalonde said. “Our division and conference is painstakingly a gauntlet. It’s every single night, which is fine. You got to play at a high level every night. All that is is one of the top teams in the division, the conference again on the road. It’s too early for any of that. It’s a team that’s drafted longer and higher than us and have done a really good job. That’s a really good team. You go through that lineup, it’s pretty scary. They’re starting to play like it now. One more really good challenge for us.”
The other twist to this game is that it marks the return of Alex DeBrincat to Ottawa. He played one season there and fans believe he never wanted to be there and forced his way out of Ottawa. The Red Wings gave up a first-round pick, a fourth, Dominik Kubalik and prospect Donovan Sebrango for DeBrincat.
One question about Saturday’s game is how fans will react to DeBrincat who is leading the NHL with eight points. It doesn’t help that Kubalik has no points this season.
“It’s definitely going to be weird going back,” DeBrincat said. “They obviously have a great team. It’s going to be a good battle. There’s a budding rivalry there. It should be a good game and a fun one to be a part of. I’m excited to go back.”