DETROIT -- His Detroit Red Wings built themselves a nice, comfortable 5-0 lead before things then got a little too sloppy for coach Mike Babcock's liking in the third period. Still, if this is the Red Wings on an off-night, what are they going to do when all the high-octane star forwards are going full-tilt?
Led by their third and fourth lines and their third defense pair, the Wings overwhelmed the Ottawa Senators with an offensive onslaught and then held on for a 5-3 win to open the 2011-12 season on Friday night at Joe Louis Arena.
Detroit (1-0-0) got a goal and assist from fourth-line center Cory Emmerton along with goals by Todd Bertuzzi, captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Jiri Hudler and Ian White, while goalie Jimmy Howard (1-0-0) earned the win by stopping 29 of 32 shots - including all 21 in the first 40 minutes.
Drew Miller also added a pair of assists on Emmerton's fourth line. Still, Babcock was careful with the praise he doled out - after watching the Wings allow three straight goals in the third, including two to Milan Michalek - after going up 5-0 on White's goal 3:12 into the period.
"I didn't like the way we played the third," Babcock said. "It's just coming out lackadaisical and suddenly the other team's back in the game. Not trying to take anything away from Ottawa, but there's no way you should do that to your goalie when he's done a good job for you. It's just unnecessary."
On the flip side, Detroit's bottom two lines, centered by Darren Helm (one assist, plus-2) and Emmerton (a goal, an assist, plus-2), accounted for a pair of goals, four assists and a whopping plus-11 rating to spoil the NHL coaching debut of former Wings assistant Paul MacLean.
Detroit's third defense pair of Jakub Kindl (one assist, plus-3) and Jonathan Ericsson (one assist, plus-3) also drew rave reviews.
"What I do like is that Emmerton was really strong down the middle on our fourth line and Miller played well on that group," Babcock said. "The Helm line was very dominant and so, we know the rest is going to come together. But if those two groups can play like that, we're off to the races."
Bertuzzi's goal with 3:59 left in the first got the scoring started. It came off a sloppy change by the Senators (0-1), with Kindl finding Helm after he came over the boards and Helm zipping a pass to Bertuzzi to set up a mini-break between Ottawa defenders in the Senators zone. Bertuzzi did the rest, beating Craig Anderson top shelf from the low slot to put the Wings up 1-0 and cause MacLean to shake his head in disbelief.
What happened in the first half of the second period couldn't have made MacLean feel much better, as the Wings blew the game open with three more goals to go up 4-0.
The Senators led Lidstrom walk all the way down the left side before he snapped a quick shot past Anderson's stick at 1:39. Emmerton's second career goal off a pretty backhand feed by Miller behind the net made it 3-0 at 9:40 and Hudler's goal 58 seconds later - set up by Pavel Datsyuk's steal and pass - put Detroit up by four with half the period left.
"It was a great play by (Tomas Holmstrom) to get the puck in and (Miller) made a great play on the forecheck to kind of feed it out," said Emmerton, who earned the game's first star. "I just went to the net and kind of whacked at it and fortunately it went in, but this team is incredible. It's unfortunate we got away from (our game) a little bit in the third period, but in the second … when we started to play our way it's pretty fun to watch."
Not if you're on the receiving end.
Anderson did what he could in goal to keep the Wings at bay, but the Senators were ultimately washed under by a red tidal wave of offense. The good news for Ottawa came in the third, when Michalek scored twice before the halfway mark of the period and Filip Kuba's power-play tally with 1:31 left made the score look closer than the game.
Jason Spezza assisted on both of Michalek's goals; they were the only Senators to finish with positive ratings.
"It lets everyone know that we're not going to quit," Spezza said of the third period. "We're a scrappy bunch. We're not going to give up. It showed good character … that we're not quitters."
As for the growing pains that came during that Red Wings offensive buzz saw, Spezza said it's to be expected while Ottawa adapts to MacLean's system -- one that is rooted in the same basic philosophy that he helped Babcock with in both Anaheim and Detroit.
"We're trying to change the way we play to more of a puck-possession game, so there's going to be a growing process," Spezza said. "You see the way they play with the puck with such confidence. It's going to take us time to get to that level. We played pretty good to start the game. Then we made a little mistake, they scored (on Bertuzzi's goal) and there was kind of a snowball effect."
Both teams actually got off to slow starts, with the young Senators looking a little tentative and the Red Wings a little sluggish. A moving on-ice ceremony before the game might've taken a little zip out of Detroit's skating initially.
The Wings honored former defenseman Ruslan Salei, former goalie prospect Stefan Liv and former assistant coach Brad McCrimmon, all of whom were killed in a tragic plane crash last month that killed 37 members of the KHL team Yaroslavl Lokomotiv.
McCrimmon's family - wife Maureen, daughter Carlin and son Liam - still live in the Detroit area and were given a framed No. 2 "McCrimmon" jersey at center ice. All three tearfully accepted the jersey and condolences from Lidstrom, the Wings captain, and alternates Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
"It's hard to all of a sudden just turn it on and start playing your game," Lidstrom said of Detroit's start. "Once we got our legs, we started playing a lot better. It was very emotional for the players and our wives, who were on the ice as well (for the ceremony). Seeing Brad's family out there on the ice and us trying to cherish what he did for us and what he meant for our team … I thought it was a great gesture from the team to do something for his family."