Will there be fireworks before the National Hockey League all-star break Wednesday night?
That’s the big question as the Senators prepare to face the Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena for the first time since winger Mathieu Joseph knocked out captain Dylan Larkin during an incident in front of net in the first period of Ottawa’s 5-1 win in Detroit on Dec. 9.
The 27-year old Larkin lay motionless on the ice after he was knocked out after taking a shove in the back of the head from Joseph while Ottawa winger Parker Kelly accidentally caught Larkin on the face with his glove while trying to help clear the front of the net.
It may have been nearly two months ago, but it hasn’t been forgotten.
Detroit coach Derek Lalonde doesn’t want his players getting caught up in what happened in the past, but he will likely address it before the puck is dropped against the Senators.
“I think the message is going to be manage your emotions,” Lalonde told Detroit reporters on Monday. “Obviously, pushback and (don’t) take anything like that personal. It’s about winning the game and getting the two points.
“That was a very, very emotional game that even hung with us there for a while. We did a good job of getting past it. (It’s) another hockey game that we want to compete in at a high level and that’s it.”
After Larkin was helped off the ice and didn’t return, Joseph was booed every time he touched the puck. He and Kelly both received two minute minors after the officials reviewed the incident while Joseph obliged Detroit’s Christian Fischer by dropping the gloves later in the game.
Joseph wasn’t disciplined, but Detroit’s David Perron did get a five-game suspension from the NHL’s department of player safety for attacking defenceman Artem Zub in the wake of the incident.
Larkin missed four games with a head injury. The officials initially gave Joseph a five-minute major, but then reviewed it and changed it to a two-minute penalty. There was no malice intended and Larkin was trying to distance himself from everything as well.
“It’s another game. We’ve had a history with them the past couple of seasons, so I’m sure it will intense like every time we play them,” Larkin said. “That’s why I expect a good game. We need to tie up the series against them this season.
“Every time we’ve had matchups in our division, they’ve been tight games and intense games. That’s when we feel like we’re good, when we’re intense and we’re in it. I expect that’s how we’ll be on Wednesday.”
It was pointed out that Larkin and Joseph have a history that dates back to when the latter was with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Larkin punched Joseph in the head during a game in Oct. 2021, was given a match penalty and was suspended for one game.
Joseph became public enemy No. 1 in Detroit after Larkin left the game this season. Club officials put a note on the scoreboard reminding fans of the NHL’s policy on a safe environment.
Joseph said two days later he reached out to Larkin, but hadn’t heard back. Larkin wouldn’t discuss the subject when asked if the two had spoken.
“I’ve talked about it, I don’t want to go there,” Larkin said. “I don’t feel there’s a reason to dig up old stuff today.”
The Wings likely don’t want to get into a physical battle with the Senators because they haven’t handled it well in the past and Ottawa captain Brady Tkachuk has a tremendous ability to get into Detroit’s wheelhouse.
The best-case scenario is that both sides stick to playing the game the right way. The Senators have a 2-1-0 record against Detroit this season and this will be the final time they face off.
Coming off an emotional 4-3 overtime victory over the Nashville Predators on Monday at home, the Senators went straight to the airport Tuesday afternoon as coach Jacques Martin opted for rest over repetition in practice after the club erased a three-goal deficit for two points.
“We emphasized doing it as a team instead of individually,” Tkachuk said.
The Senators showed resilience after falling behind 3-0 in the first period. The club had an emotional discussion in its dressing room because the players felt they weren’t doing enough to show support to goaltender Mads Sogaard, who was pulled after allowing three goals on 11 shots.
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“Parker Kelly was in there, and a couple of the leaders, but Kells made a good speech and got the boys fired up,” said winger Drake Batherson, who got the club on the board to start the comeback in the second.
It helped that Joonas Korpisalo came on in relief and halted all 17 shots he faced, the Senators stuck to the game plan and alternate captain Claude Giroux scored the OT winner on a perfect feed from Tim Stutzle.
“It’s a big game,” Giroux said of this one against Detroit. “Where we are in the standings isn’t pretty but we’ve got to just go one game at a time.
“The break is going to be good but we need to get this next win first.”