Friday, Dec. 9 may prove to be one of the darkest days of the 2023-24 season for the Detroit Red Wings. A pivotal matchup against a division rival quickly turned into a nightmare as Red Wings fans from far and wide held their breath while their captain lay motionless on the ice. At 13:50 of the first period, during a goalmouth scramble, Ottawa Senators forward Mathieu Joseph cross-checked Dylan Larkin from behind, forcing him to collide with Parker Kelly as he fell to the ice. Never in my life have I heard it so quiet at Little Caesars Arena as the crowd looked on in horror.
Larkin, lying face down, lost consciousness for what seemed like an eternity, while players from both teams quickly signaled the Detroit bench to bring out the medical staff. Moments after he went down, David Perron retaliated against Artem Zub with an intentional cross-check to the head, earning a five-minute major to go along with a game misconduct in the process. I was at a loss for words, and could not think of a worse scenario for a Detroit team that is currently near the top of the Atlantic Division standings.
But that was a moot point as concern immediately shifted to Larkin’s health. Is the captain okay? Larkin and Joseph have a history, as this is not the first time the two have feuded. In the 2021-22 season opener, Joseph – then with the Tampa Bay Lightning – put Larkin head first into the boards with a check from behind. The star center then responded with a right-handed punch to Joseph’s face drawing a match penalty and was ejected from the game. He also served a one-game suspension.
You thought Wednesday’s loss to the Sharks was bad? Well, the hockey gods looked at each other and said: “Hold my beer.” What Perron did was inexcusable and one would expect a suspension is looming, but the face of the franchise was down and emotions ran rampant. Larkin will most likely enter concussion protocol and could miss some time. All of a sudden things suddenly felt bleak for a team that is vying for a playoff spot for the first time in eight years.
The injury set the stage for the Red Wings to step up in the absence of their captain, but sadly it wasn’t meant to be. I’m not quick to judge a team that just saw the face of their franchise go down in a terrifying moment for everyone who witnessed it. The mood at the LCA became one of concern for one of Detroit’s most beloved hockey heroes. Here are my three takeaways from last night’s 5-1 loss to the Senators.
1. Kane Is Able
Detroit’s star free agent signing, once again, looked great out on the ice wearing the Winged Wheel. Just over a minute after Larkin went down, Red Wings fans got their first taste of the man they call “Showtime.” On the ensuing power play, Detroit goalie Alex Lyon hit Alex DeBrincat near center ice after a bad Senators line change and found a streaking Kane who calmly glided in before ripping a missile – beating Joonas Korpisalo on his short side. It was only a matter of time before the legendary winger found the back of the net as he has peppered goalies with ten shots in his first two games. The crowd erupted and the Red Wings had their swagger back.
While only a small sample size, if Kane can continue this style of play, Detroit has found themselves a serious weapon as they forge on for a playoff push. His crisp passes on the power play will be a key asset for this team moving forward as he displayed last night with some nifty looks to his partner-in-crime – DeBrincat. Red Wings fans can continue to be optimistic about the former Blackhawk because if that hip is truly healthy we are all in for a treat the rest of the way. Kane’s star power is real, and gives head coach Derek Lalonde some truly interesting options for the top three lines. When was the last time Detroit had that?
2. Fischer Steps Up
Fourth-line forward and Larkin’s close friend, Christian Fischer, earned this writer’s lifetime of respect as he stepped up and took on Joseph in the third period, bringing the crowd to its feet. On a night when there wasn’t a lot to cheer about, it was nice to see someone on the team standing up for the Red Wings captain. That has been a missing component in Detroit for the past few seasons and you can safely bet that Lalonde privately regretted making Klim Kostin a healthy scratch after the fact.
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I honestly felt that Kostin would have been better served, especially when you consider the physicality of last year’s back-to-back losses in Ottawa that showed general manager Steve Yzerman that this team was not ready to contend. The confusing part is that most observers assumed those defeats were due to a lack of toughness – the exact thing Kostin was brought in for.
3. A Rivalry Evolves
It was no secret that there was already bad blood between these two teams, but last night may have ignited a real fire between the Atlantic Divisional rivals. Last season’s back-to-back losses to the Senators in late February stoked those flames, and it’s not hard to see their next matchup being just as feisty. Last night’s game looked eerily similar to the one that started one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the game between the Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche, and I think it’s safe to say the majority of Detroit fans know how that turned out.
The Red Wings didn’t know at the time – when Claude Lemieux put Kris Draper’s face into the boards during Game 6 of the Western Conference Final – what would evolve from that notorious hit, but it’s too soon yet to predict what will come out of this game. But you can be sure Joseph stole a page out of Lemieux’s playbook as he now appears to be public enemy No. 1 in the eyes of Red Wings fans.
First and foremost the health of Larkin is the most important thing at this moment and our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family. Neck injuries are very serious and the captain has suffered multiple ones over the past two seasons. The 27-year-old Detroit native is the biggest piece to this team’s puzzle and a fan favorite in the Motor City. Hopefully, it’s not serious because this team goes as their leader does and if he misses any significant time, it will be more than devastating to their playoff chances. But first, let’s just pray he’s okay.