As Wing fans, we get used to our team being the dominant one in any given matchup. Sure, an opponent may have won a couple of recent meetings, but the Wings have been so good for so long that there are very instances where the Wings are the true underdog.
The San Jose Sharks represent one of this situations. Winners of 5 straight regular season meetings and the team that has ended the Wings' last 2 seasons, the Sharks have set up camp in the Wings' heads so much they're paying rent.
When last these teams met, the Sharks dominated the Wings in every aspect of the game, leading Mike Babcock to challenge the team and ask whether they want to be a good team or not. That game marked the Wings 7th regulation loss of the season in only the Wings' 17th game; in the 43 games since that meeting (including today), the Wings have only lost 10 games in regulation. I'd say the Wings responded favourably to Babcock's challenge.
An even first period saw few good scoring chances as both teams tried to remain patient defensively. Henrik Zetterberg opened the scoring when his backhand eluded Antti Niemi. Given the history of the Sharks and Wings and how well San Jose has played against Detroit, getting an early lead was crucial to the Wings' chances of victory.
The second period saw a parade of Wings to the penalty box as the referees decided that they wanted to showcase what they do on Hockey Day in America. Some of these penalties were actually deserved, but the Wings were able to kill off the first 3 penalties, getting a goal from Drew Miller after the 2nd Sharks' power play expired. However, giving the Sharks opportunity after opportunity proved to be harmful to the Wings as Logan Couture "scored" the Sharks' first goal. Truthfully, he didn't do anything except flail away aimlessly at a bouncing puck, and only got credit when Justin Abdelkader inadvertently knocked the puck in his own net, cutting the Wings' lead to 1.
After some initial pressure by the Sharks to start the third period, the Wings slowly took over control of the game, tilting the ice to the Sharks' end. Darren Helm restored the Wings' 2-goal lead by converting a gorgeous pass from Drew Miller, and came close on several occasions to taking an even bigger lead. However, Patrick Marleau potted a loose puck with about 5 minutes left to make us all sweat. But that was as close as the Sharks would get, and for the first time in their last 6 regular season meetings, the Wings emerged victorious against San Jose.
- I'll say what all of us that were inside the "other games" territories are thinking: NBC blew it big time by not allowing the other games to be shown on TV. I pay good money for Center Ice, and to be forced to watch the game on my crappy laptop instead of my HDTV that is in the same room as my very comfortable couch makes me very angry. Then a series of events ensues that ends with me having cats with dog collars (or something like that, according to every satellite commercial on TV right now).
- Notwithstanding the terrible call against him in the first period, Todd Bertuzzi seems to be taking this "Big Bad Bertuzzi" nickname to heart with his play recently. It was another game of off-target passes, lack of physical engagement and just general poor play. Johan Franzen didn't add much to this game either, leading me to wonder if Babcock ever rewards Datsyuk with linemates who can display some consistency.
- I'm no conspiracy nut. I don't believe that there is a desire for any referee or official associated with the NHL to consciously influence the outcome of a game. That will not prevent me from complaining about the referees, who were horribly inconsistent for most of this game.
- I defy anyone to name a better third line currently in the NHL that is better than Miller-Helm-Abdelkader. You know what? Don't even bother trying. It won't happen.
- When Jimmy Howard's injury was announced, and it was determined he was going to miss games, I looked at the schedule and thought the Wing should be able to navigate this little stretch without losing too much ground. Then Ty Conklin shit the bed against Edmonton and in came Joey MacDonald, and I hedged my expectations to hope the team would go .500 until Howard gets back. All Joey has done is gone 6-1-1 in his 8 games, posting a SV% of .934 and a GAA of 1.66. If he was playing in St Louis, those would be All-Star numbers.
- Happy Hockey Day in America to all of our American readers.
After a homestand in which the Wings took 12 out of a possible 12 points, they leave for 1 game to come to my current hometown of Chicago to take on the surging Blackhawks. For those in the area, the Red Wings will be hosting a social media get-together at Tin Lizzie in the city. Here's the details, and if you're lucky, you may get to meet yours truly. I'll be the tall good-looking guy with no hair in the Red Wing shirt.