Instead, nothing was decided until late in the game — despite the fact the Senators held a 16-2 shot advantage in the opening 20 minutes.
Patrick Wiercioch's first goal of the season was the game winner as he moved in from the point and beat Howard with a wrist shot with less than six minutes to play in regulation as the Senators beat the Red Wings 3-1 at Canadian Tire Centre.
Niklas Kronwall hit a post that would have tied the game just seconds later but, as the Red Wings continued to press for the equalizer, Clarke MacArthur scored into an empty net at 19:02 to give the Senators the win.
"We didn't skate and when you don't skate it's tough to win battles. We didn't even play in the first period," said Kronwall.
Erik Karlsson also had a goal as well as an assist for the Senators (6-3-2) while Craig Anderson made 31 saves.
Henrik Zetterberg had the lone goal for the Red Wings (6-3-3) as he beat Anderson with a backhand at 3:34 of the third period to tie the game. Howard finished with 30 saves.
"I liked the way we moved the puck out of our zone tonight. We fumbled around with it a little in the second and the third but I thought in the first we were direct, passes getting out and it makes it tough for them to forecheck," MacArthur said.
"It was a great game," he added. "They have a great hockey team over there with a lot of speed and every line there are guys that are dangerous. Andy (Anderson) is a top-end goalie in this league and he showed it. For us to get that in regulation is a great feeling."
With the game tied 1-1, Anderson bailed out Karlsson with an acrobatic save off Tomas Jurco following a two-on-one that was created by a Karlsson give away at the Detroit blue-line.
Anderson was particularly busy through the final 40 minutes of the game as 30 of the 32 shots he faced came during the second and third periods.
The Senators certainly deserved a better reward than a scoreless tie following their first-period performance that saw them heavily outshoot the Red Wings.
Howard was especially good during a nearly four-minute span in the second half of the period when the Red Wings took consecutive penalties.
The Senators had a brief five-on-three advantage for 20 seconds during that span but were unable to generate anything as they lost the initial face-off after the second penalty and the Red Wings were able to ice the puck.
Kyle Turris beat Howard early in the second period but, by the time Turris took his shot, Howard was lying face down in the net having been run into by a sliding Brendan Smith.
The goal was waved off as Howard was hurt on the play, however he did stay in the game and stopped Turris on a short-handed breakaway a few moments later.
"They really dictated the play. They really skated in the first period and we didn't," Howard said.
"It's tough to get the puck into the offensive zone when they're catching you from behind all the time. We did not do a good job getting the puck out at our blue-line and getting it in at theirs," he added.
The Senators finally got one past Howard that counted as Karlsson needed just 37 seconds of a power play to score on a shot from the point at 14:37 of the second. Turris picked up a bit of redemption with the primary assist.
"The way this game went it gives us momentum going forward even though this game was see-sawed," Senators coach Paul MacLean said. "I though the last eight minutes our leadership group did a really good job of settling things down, getting us the game and bringing this home. We deserved this."
The win also halted a two-game losing streak for the Senators while the Red Wings have now lost two straight.
Notes: Colin Greening, Mark Borowiecki and Alex Chiasson were scratches for the Senators while Daniel Cleary, Kyle Quincy and Andrej Nestrasil were scratches for the Red Wings...With his second period assist, Turris now has 99 for his career…Tuesday's meeting was the 30th all-time between the Senators and Red Wings, 18 of which have been won by the Red Wings…Ottawa's general manager Bryan Murray was Detroit's head coach from 1990-93 and Ottawa's current coach, Paul MacLean, was an assistant with Detroit from 2005-11.