Dylan Larkin injury ignites the Red Wings/Senators rivalry to a whole new level

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Rivalries are great for sports, but this one between the Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators is far from over and getting out of control.

You know the recent history between these two teams. Things started to escalate last winter with the Detroit Red Wings making a last-ditch effort to qualify for the postseason coming off a tremendous west coast road trip. Then, a week before the trade deadline, with a wild card berth in sight, the Red Wings would travel to Ottawa for back-to-back games only to be bullied out of the barn and outscored 12-3 in the two games. The Senators hammered the Red Wings physically and on the scoresheet. Detroit, although trying, couldn’t come close to matching the Senators’ toughness. At one point, as things began to get out of control, Sens captain Brady Tkachuk gestured to the Red Wings bench, challenging the whole group to a fight; as you could imagine, no one on Detroit obliged.

That two-game set with the Sens reassured general manager Steve Yzerman that the Red Wings were not in a position to make a serious playoff run, prompting the former captain to sell off assets. In addition to that, I believe those two games, in particular, helped mold what Yzerman wanted to accomplish this past off-season in free agency. Following the regular season, the same message had been pushed from each level of the organization: Detroit needed to get tougher. Yzerman, head coach Derek Lalonde, and captain Dylan Larkin all continued to articulate the same statement. Yzerman then made sure to mention that he doesn’t want to sign players to fight but needs to add players who are tough to play against, players who are tenacious on the forecheck that can wear defensemen down, and players who can fight or are willing to fight when it’s necessary. Well, Saturday night in Detroit, fighting was required.

Detroit Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin was injured after suffering a vicious cross-check by Mathieu Joseph.

The off-season additions of Christian Fischer and Klim Kostin, in particular, were to add a physical brand of hockey to Detroit’s fourth line. Both can contribute offensively and provide some physicality but understand neither is Bob Probert or Darren McCarty. However, as Kostin has proved in the past and Fischer on Saturday night, each will drop the gloves when necessary.

On Saturday night, Senators forward Mathieu Joseph punched Dylan Larkin in the back of the head and neck area as there had been a scramble for the puck in front of the Ottawa goal. As Larkin began to fall forward from taking the blow behind, he fell toward Parker Kelly, who got him with a butt-end of the stick on the chin. Larkin was knocked out and laid helpless on the ice for what felt like several minutes as chaos erupted. Detroit Red Wings forward David Perron immediately retaliated with a vicious cross-check to defenseman Artem Zub, who wasn’t directly involved in the play.

I am not sure if Perron saw exactly what happened, but he certainly wanted blood as he viewed his captain and team leader lying on the ice motionless, and Zub was pretty close to Larkin at the time. Perron was quickly assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for ‘intent to injure,’ which was the right call. Perron will have an in-person hearing with the NHL’s player safety following his actions. The in-person hearing will allow the league to suspend Perron for five or more games if they choose. After viewing the replay multiple times, even though Kelly’s fist and stick landed across the chin area of Larkin, there didn’t seem to be much intent there but more of a reaction due to the fact that Larkin was falling in close quarters forward into Kelly.

The real issue here is that Joseph cross-checked Larkin in the back of the neck and head, ensuring the contract was under the back of Larkin’s helmet. It was an extremely dangerous hit, and that may have been the blow that knocked the Red Wings’ captain unconscious. Don’t forget, there is a history here between Joseph and Larkin. Back in 2021-22, during Detroit’s season opener, Joseph, a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning at the time, leveled Larkin from behind, sending him head-first into the dasher. Larkin was able to get up fairly quickly and throw a glove punch to Joseph’s face. It was the frustrated Detroit captain’s first game since a season-ending neck injury the year prior, thanks to a heinous cross-check from Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars to Larkin’s neck during a faceoff. That play somehow went undetected by the officials. The replay is shown fairly often during Red Wings games, and every time I view it, it nearly makes me sick.

The Detroit Red Wings were without Kostin on Saturday night as he was under the weather. Lalonde elected to go with 11 forwards and seven defenders, which created some significant problems following the melee. Detroit lost Larkin to injury and Perron to disqualification, and at the same time, Robby Fabbri had been leaking from a cut to the cheek and required repairs. Detroit quickly saw the forward group of 11 down to eight for a while. Despite going into the room tied at one following the first period, the Senators began to wear down the short-handed Red Wings in the second and third periods, eventually winning to the tune of 5-1.

During the third period, Fischer dropped the gloves with Joseph, and the two tangled briefly. Following the game, Fischer mentioned that anyone on the team would have done that to defend their captain, and anyone else on the club for that matter. Fischer then said he would have done it a lot sooner, but the team had been down to eight forwards, and he didn’t want to put them in an even more vulnerable position while the game was still in reach. Fischer nor Kostin will strike fear into the opponent as Probert or McCarty did, but the game has changed. Detroit still needs someone who can hold Ottawa, in particular, accountable. Yzerman will not go out and search for a Brad May, Tony Twist, or Tie Domi.

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There will never be another Bob Probert, but he and Darren McCarty could contribute in other ways besides their heavy-weight champion-like roles. Both could put the puck in the net and help on the penalty kill. I wonder if Yzerman will look to add another fourth-line power forward ahead of the NHL trade deadline to reinforce Detroit’s lineup ahead of their playoff push. Also, I don’t expect the Senators to be in the middle of the playoff race, but this rivalry is far from over; in fact, it appears as though it’s just begun.