When you looked at the Red Wings’ schedule for the month of April, this particular weekend stood out.
Two games against Ottawa, which if not a breather, at least gave the Wings two games against a rebuilding team and an opportunity to earn points. There aren’t going to be many chances like this.
Of course, it didn’t turn out to be that way. Ottawa completed a two-game sweep on Sunday with a 5-2 victory.
Oxford native Josh Norris, who starred collegiately at Michigan, scored three goals as the Wings continued a dramatic second-half swoon. The Wings (26-34-9) only won three games in their last 18 games (3-12-3), erasing some of the early season progress.
“We were the closest we’ve been in a couple of years (to the playoff race) and we were playing well, and then (we’ve) just really fallen off,” Dylan Larkin said. “It is frustrating, but we have to get something positive here to end the season. We can’t go into the summer like this, and then next year. We have to find a way to get something positive.”
Larkin’s 29th goal on a drive to the net cut Ottawa’s lead to 3-2 at 12 minutes, 35 seconds of the third period.
Taro Hirose appeared to tie the game until video ruled otherwise, but Hirose was hooked and the Wings went on the power play with five minutes left in regulation.
But the Wings failed to convert for the second time in the game, and Norris added an empty-net goal (Nikita Zaitsev added another) to cement the outcome.
“We felt we had tied it and obviously didn’t count, but you have a power play (so) go out and tie the game,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “The first unit didn’t have much looks and the second unit had a couple, one really good look. We just have to get the puck to the cage. It was disappointing we didn’t capitalize there.”
Michael Rasmussen opened the game’s scoring to give the Wings a rare, early lead. But the Senators gradually took over the rest of the afternoon.
Goaltender Thomas Greiss returned to the lineup but suffered his fifth consecutive loss, while making 31 saves.
Artem Zub supplied the other Senators’ goal.
The Wings had good energy, which hasn’t always been the case during this slump. They stayed close and had an opportunity to tie the game late. But while Ottawa found ways to capitalize on scoring chances in these two games, the Wings did not.
“There were moments of good and not good,” Blashill said. “They play a real pressure style and a real stretch game. In those types of games, you’re going to end up giving up some chances and end up getting some big time chances. We did both. We didn’t capitalize enough on our big-time chances and ultimately, they score one more than us until the empty-netters.”
In the end, against an Ottawa (25-37-6) team that is below Detroit in the standings (but is getting closer), the Wings earned zero out of four points.
“Guys are frustrated, it just hasn’t gone the way any of us wanted to go, since even before the trade deadline,” Larkin said. “We’ve had the hardest schedule (in the NHL) but it’s frustrating as it can be.”
Rasmussen scored his 10th goal, giving the Wings a 1-0 lead. Rasmussen kept the puck on a two-on-one rush, and snapped a shot past goaltender Anton Forsberg.
“Ras was excellent. He played hard, won battles and played with the type of energy that we’re going to need from everyone,” Blashill said.
The Wings killed two Ottawa penalties in the period and generally controlled the period. But Zub tied the game at 1 at the 18:18 mark of the first period on a clean shot from near the point that beat Greiss and gave the Senators a sliver of momentum.
Norris scored his first two goals in the second period (30 for season) on a snipe on the power play from the right circle and on a rebound in the low slot, putting Ottawa ahead 3-1.
“He’s a real good player. He has scored at every level, scored in college, the American League, and he is scoring in the NHL,” Blashill said. “He’s a real good player, a real good young piece. He and (Brady) Tkachuk on that line are really good and can play against the other team’s best and do a good job.”