Alfredsson leads Red Wings past Senators

In his first game in Ottawa since leaving for Detroit as a free agent in the summer, Daniel Alfredsson scored a goal and an assist to lead to the Red Wings to a 4-2 win over the Senators at Canadian Tire Centre.

Alfredsson leads Red Wings past Senators
Henrik Zetterberg (R) congratulates Daniel Alfredsson (L) at the end of the 3rd period as the Ottawa Senators take on the Detroit Red Wings in NHL action at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, on December 1, 2013. (Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen)

You had to know it was going to end this way, with Daniel Alfredsson returning to Ottawa only to hand his former teammates the final, crushing blow.

The game demanded a poetic conclusion, a little twist of the knife.

And that’s exactly what happened before 20,011 fans, the biggest crowd of the season.

After Mika Zibanejad scored with 1:21 left in regulation to bring the Ottawa Senators within one goal, Alfredsson stopped the nail-biting 14 seconds later with an empty-net goal, to give the Detroit Red Wings a 4-2 win.

With an assist on an earlier Detroit goal, Alfredsson also left with the game puck as a souvenir. The goal also meant that Alfredsson has now scored against all 30 NHL teams.

“It was nice to kind of seal the game there, because they were pushing and I was thinking, ‘here come the Pesky Sens again,’” said Alfredsson. “But we were lucky to get a bounce there and I was able to get free.”

The Senators marked Alfredsson’s return with a 90-second “Welcome back, Alfie” highlight reel of his best moments over the 17 seasons and 18 years he spent in Ottawa, with U2’s Beautiful Day as the soundtrack.

If there were those in the crowd still upset with his decision to leave for Detroit, they kept their grumbling to themselves.

There was only applause for Alfredsson.

Even his Detroit teammates joined with Ottawa fans in saluting a special athlete who has written so many pages of Ottawa sports history.

He was humbled.

The warm feelings didn’t last for the entire game, though.

With time winding down in the second period, Alfredsson touched the puck along the boards in the Ottawa zone and was greeted with a smattering of boos.

He wasn’t offended. He knew they’d be coming at some point

“That’s good,” he said. “They should stick up for their team, and that’s what they were doing.”

Clarke MacArthur also scored for the Senators, who have now lost four in a row at home.

Drew Miller had two goals for the Red Wings, his third and fourth, and Johan Franzen had one for the Red Wings.

Robin Lehner faced 22 shots for Ottawa, while Jonas Gustavsson faced 32.

Coach Paul MacLean said his team’s effort was a little bit better, but that it is still not playing hard enough to win. That has to change.

“We’re not doing it hard enough,” he said. “We need to be harder. That might be harsh to say.

“We can look at the stat sheet and say it flattered us a little bit with the shots on goal or this and that.

“But at the end of the day, we didn’t do enough to win.

“Is that playing harder? Is that work ethic? Is that being smarter? It’s all of the above, I would say.

“But if we were to categorize it under one term, we need to play harder.”

In the end, Alfredsson was glad to get the homecoming behind him, though he’ll probably live it again a little bit every time he returns to Ottawa.

“A lot of energy’s been spent the last few days, but I really appreciate the gesture from the Sens organization and the fans,” he said.

“It’s really humbling.

“But I think it does put a lot of questions away for both sides going forward, and I think that’s the way it should be.

“I felt comfortable on the ice. It’s a building I’ve been in a lot of times. Even though it was different playing for the other team, it was a great feeling to be out there.”

His former teammates said his return and the hoopla surrounding it wasn’t a distraction. They’ve longed moved on.

“That’s what I thought was going to happen, a warm reception, applause,” said Chris Phillips, who until this October had played his entire career with Alfredsson.

“But we’ve moved on, we’re playing the game, that’s what’s most important for us.

“There was a lot of going on tonight, but there was also a hockey game being played and we needed the two points.”

The Senators had a couple of good chances in a scoreless first period.

Kyle Turris made Gustavsson stretch for a glove save during a power play, and Jason Spezza tested him with a backhand.

But the Red Wings had a couple of better chances, and were probably unlucky not to convert at least one of them.

Darren Helm got in on a short-handed breakaway and Jonathan Ericsson cut in tight off the right wing.

Both times, though, Lehner gave his teammates a lift by making a save.

His luck ran out in the second period.

Franzen beat him from the left circle with a shot to the far side at 8:22, and Miller beat him three minutes later with a shot from the right circle that went over his glove.

Lehner has an unfortunate history with fellow Swede Franzen.

In a Feb. 2, 2011, game against the Red Wings in Ottawa, Franzen scored two of his five goals on Lehner, in a 7-5 Detroit win.

With a little more than five minutes left in the period, however, MacArthur scored on a scramble to pull the Senators within one and give them a chance heading into the third.

WHY THEY LOST

They couldn’t score on the power play and got caught on three line changes, all of which the Red Wings scored on. Coach Paul MacLean said his team “just didn’t play hard enough.”

CHEERS

Drew Miller

Coming into the game, he had only two goals in 27 games. He left with four goals in 28 games.

JEERS

The Ottawa power play

On paper, it’s not bad (10th at 20.2 per cent). But on Sunday it was 0-for-4. A goal there would have helped.

BIGGEST CROWD

Daniel Alfredsson’s return attracted Ottawa’s biggest crowd of the year, 20,011. It was the third sellout of the season. The previous biggest crowd was 19,538 for a Nov. 15 game against the Boston Bruins.

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