The Wings emerged from their Christmas break determined to work off all the turkey, stuffing and potatoes they consumed over the last 2 days, and we were treated to a post-holiday feast of solid defense, puck possession and great goaltending by the visiting team. The Wings took a 4-0 lead into the third period and played a good 60 minutes en route to a 4-1 victory.
The Wings opened the scoring in the first period when Henrik Zetterberg banked a puck in off of Niklas Backstrom from behind the goal line. Dan Cleary increased the Wings' lead when he also was able to get a shot past Backstrom from a tough angle. The first was marred by a lot of penalties which took away from the flow of the game, but the Wings entered the second with the dreaded "two-goal lead". Kris Draper tipped in a Niklas Kronwall shot early in the second to give the Wings a 3-0 lead. Tomas Holmstrom got in on the fun when he potted his 10th goal of the season on the power play in typical Homer fashion. The Wild pressed throughout the third period in an attempt to get back in the game, but Jimmy Howard stood tall in the Wing net. Brent Burns scored a power play goal for the Wild late in the third to ruin the shutout, but the Wings closed the door on the way to a win.
This was the best performance by the Wings in some time, and it was a great way to cap off a holiday weekend. Join me after the jump where we'll unwrap the bullet points and see what kind of analysis we got.
- This was not the prettiest of games, but the Wings had a very workman-like effort against a traditionally stingy defensive team. It really helped that the opposing goalie didn't have his "best night of the year" when Backstrom let one bounce in off him from behind the net and then had another soft goal go in from a sharp angle. It's nice to be on the right side of those types of goals for once, and it lets you know it's just going to be a good night.
- Jimmy Howard didn't have to work very hard for his 19th win of the season (tying him for most in the NHL with Carey Price at the time of writing this), but he was pretty impressive in the third period when he had to be. His rebound control (normally his main weakness) was really good tonight, and shots just seemed to be absorbed in his chest. This was a good night for him, especially given his recent struggles. I wonder if only facing 17 shots means he gets the start tomorrow night, saving Osgood for NYE against the Islanders. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
- You know who else was really good tonight? Brad Stuart. I mentioned in the game thread, but I feel it bears repeating here: he was excellent, and I think he has played himself into the position of "best defenseman on the Wings not named Lidstrom". He played a little goalie tonight, blocked shots, held Mikko Koivu and Martin Havlat in check, and can even chip in with a little offense. He's got a killer shot (just ask Dan Cleary), and for the most part this season, he's played smart. He's still prone to a giveaway here and there, but he's not perfect. Great game from Stuart.
- Speaking of Dan Cleary, I think it's safe to say that we will all be watching the news reports from the team tomorrow concerning whether he was injured after blocking that shot or not. I know that after last year, I get extremely nervous when a Wing player shows any signs of even being remotely injured, and with Pavel going down last week, we're all wondering if it's going to happen all over again. My gut tells me it's bruised and sore, but we won't know until after the boot comes off and x-rays are taken. (Update at 10:18 EST: a tweet from Trevor Thompson states Cleary has a broken ankle and is out a month. We'll be keeping an eye on this and see if we get confirmation from the team later on)
- The special teams were good tonight, especially the penalty killing. They ended the night 5 for 6, and the one PP goal the Wild got was with less than 5 minutes in the game. The referees were calling just about everything tonight, and the Wings were able to not lose the special teams battle, scoring 1 PP goal to counter the one they gave up.
- There was a moment in the game that shows the difference between the Wings and a lot of other teams. When the score was 3-0, Eric Nystrom went after Brad Stuart in an attempt to goad him into a fight. Stuart skated up the ice, no doubt asking how Nystrom's Christmas went and what his favourite gift was, all while Nystrom is clearly not interested in the fact that Stuart was excited about his new iPad. Stuart politely declined Nystrom's invitation to drop the gloves, and I loved this decision. There may be those out there who think it's a good idea to "stand up" to the other team or display that kind of "toughness", but I'll take a team that is smart over one that's built on truculence. There's no reason for Stuart to fight Nystrom there, because all that does is pump up the Wild, even if Stuart wins the fight.
- Kris Draper had a nice tip-in goal, and any time the fourth line can score, it takes a ton of pressure off of the rest of the team, especially when they are missing one of their top point producers in Datsyuk.
This was not the most exciting of games, but it was a solid performance by every player on the Wings (with exceptions for one or two floaters). That's the kind of effort that we as fans want to see in every single game, and if they continue to play like that, they will get close to the pace they set earlier this year. The Wings get right back at it tomorrow night against the Avalanche in Denver before closing out the year against the Islanders. Avs-Wings games are always a good time, especially now that the Avalanche are good again. We'll see you here tomorrow. (Update update: apparently I'm still feeling a little "merry" from yesterday and completely glossed over the fact the Wings play the Stars on Wednesday. My mistake, and I apologize to both Stars fans who may read this recap for forgetting about their team)