The Detroit Red Wings are focused on their future.
The Ottawa Senators are focused on ensuring they still have a future after this weekend.
Coming home off an 0-3-2 road trip, the Senators find themselves in third place in the Atlantic Division, just a point behind the second-place Toronto Maple Leafs, tied on points with the Boston Bruins and four points clear of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the first team in the Eastern Conference that is on the outside looking in at the playoff picture.
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Now that they are back home, Senators coach Guy Boucher figures it’s time to start making hay.
“It’s a long road trip for us,” Boucher said. “It’s been tough, it’s been hard to manage. It’s going to be nice to be back.
“We’ve been on the road forever, so one game at home in front of our fans, I hope it’s going to be full and people appreciate what these guys are going through, how hard they are working and how tenacious they are, and reward the players with a full barn.”
The Senators (41-27-10) concluded their road trip with a 5-4 shootout loss to the Red Wings on Monday at Detroit. On the surface, the result might seem disappointing, but Ottawa rallied from a 4-2 third-period deficit to earn a much-needed point heading into Tuesday’s rematch with the Wings.
“We had a couple bad bounces, but I thought we played really well,” Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson said. “We probably deserved two points.”
Expected to miss Monday’s game with a foot injury, Karlsson was a surprise starter and collected a goal and an assist. He leads the Senators in scoring with 70 points.
“Yeah, that’s the story of our team right there,” Boucher said. “We were never expecting Erik to be there.”
Ottawa is 0-1-2 against Detroit this season and is the only Eastern Conference team that hasn’t beaten the Wings.
Out of the playoffs for the first time since the 1989-90, the Wings (32-35-12) have been utilizing the last month of the regular season to get a look at some of their young talent. Already aware that 17-goal scorer Anthony Mantha was a keeper and that Nick Jensen, who has back-to-back multi-point games, is a serviceable NHL defenseman, Detroit is offering opportunities to other rookies down the stretch.
Defenseman Robbie Russo has played the last 16 games, defenseman Dan Renouf was also given a chance and Monday, left-winger Evgeni Svechnikov, Detroit’s top pick when he was selected 19th overall in the 2015 draft, made his NHL debut and scored the shootout winner.
“He’s real strong,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said of Svechnikov. “He’s a big body and he has thickness. He’s real strong on the puck, he’s got real good hands, he can pass the puck excellent and he can shoot it, so it’s a good package.”
Blashill sees a difference between the Svechnikov who is in Detroit now and the player who suited up for him during the preseason.
“He works extremely hard at his game,” Blashill said. “I thought in training camp he showed some flashes of skill but needed probably to learn how to play to be effective and I think over the course of the season, it seems like he’s taken the steps in the right direction to learn how to play what I’d call efficient and effective.”