Well that was a lot more fun to watch than Monday. The Wings welcomed the Blues into Detroit and gave them an early Christmas present in the form of a 5-2 loss. At least they can stop by a Detroit-area Arby's on their way out of town with a copy of the box score and get a free small order of their famous curly fries thanks to Nick Lidstrom's three-goal performance. Lidstrom was unquestionably the Wings' player of the game with his four-point night (matched in number by Zetterberg's four assists).
This game marked the return of the Wings' power play as their enforcer, which is always a great thing to see, when we don't have to rely on guys to drop the gloves to convince the other team that taking cheap shots on our players is a bad idea. Detroit's power play went 2-for-5 on the night and scored the game-winner of Cleary's stick while Backes sat in the box for cross-checking Holmstrom in the ribs in open ice. The PK only stopped 2 of 3 St. Louis opportunities, but it stopped the first two while the game was still close.
Jimmy Howard played well enough to keep Detroit from blowing it when the game was tight. He didn't play great, but he didn't have to. He made a couple of big saves on the night and earned a +2 rating. I know a lot of folks are unhappy with the first goal of the night given up, but I didn't consider it a softie so much as one of those goals that a guy will try to score 1,000 times and hit maybe twice if his fairy godmother (Corey Perry) is paying attention. A chip-in on a bouncing puck on the backhand at full-speed? Hang that one on your wall Colaiacovo because that's never happening again.
Scoring and plus/minus analysis after the jumpThe Goals
2nd Period 4:01 - Detroit Goal: Nicklas Lidstrom (slap shot) from Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk
Backes and Sobotka get the forecheck started for the Blues in the Wings end and Sobotka gets it behind Jimmy Howard. He tries to pass out front, but Pavel Datsyuk is in perfect position and blocks the pass to the boards. Instead of trying to pick it up, he instead ties up Sobotka to let Lidstrom gather control while Zetterberg and Holmstrom head up ice. Nick starts the rush with a pass to Zetterberg at center ice while the Blues' forwards change. Z and Homer trade places as they enter the zone 2-on-2 with Lidstrom catching on the left wing. Zetterberg feeds Lidstrom, who is not picked up by a forward, with a pass at the top of the dot which he one-times through Halak to open the scoring. Datsyuk's defense in his own zone gets him a half-plus. Lidstrom gets an assist for his pass to Zetterberg to start the rush.
2nd Period 5:20 - St. Louis Goal: Carlo Colaiacovo (backhand) from Dave Scatchard and Eric Brewer
Both teams' fourth lines are on the ice here as the puck gets deep into the St. Louis zone. Patrick Eaves, the lone forechecker blows a tire behind the net while Colaiacovo heads up ice. The Blues' D-man recognizes the outmanned situation and heads into the Wings' zone with speed as the four remaining Wings defenders have to allow them in with their fifth man out of the play. Colaiacovo runs a give-and-go with Scatchard upon entering the zone and cuts up ice with a step on Draper. He gets the puck back on his stick and, as he's fighting to control it and Jimmy's moving to get squared to him, he chips a bouncing puck over Howard's blocker to the far side. Like I said above, this is a very low-percentage shot attempt that finds its way through. It was high-risk, high-reward for Colaiacovo who did a very good job recognizing the man down-and-out behind the Blues' net. I don't want to give Patrick a bonus minus for losing his edge on a turn, but I am going to let Eaves keep his minus. Aside from that, I'm going to let Ericsson and Draper also keep their minuses while I clear the minuses of Abdelkader and Rafalski. Ericsson's minus comes from not having his stick in the lane to prevent the Scatchard-to-Colaiacovo pass and Draper keeps his minus (but does not get an extra one) because he has to cover the possibility of two people making that rush into his coverage area, but doesn't prevent the shot from the one that does. Abdelkader and Rafalski have their coverages.
Penalty Adjustment: about a minute after the St. Louis goal and after a long shift in the Detroit end, Tomas Holmstrom mugs Brad Boyes at center ice on a puck that gets knocked into the air. He doesn't even try to hide the fact that he grabs Boyes. [ed: tee-hee] For this, Homer gets a minus.
Penalty Adjustment: By the ten-minute mark of the 2nd period, I'm sure I'm not the only Wings fan wondering what the hell the Blues have to do to go to the box. To their credit, they had played a pretty clean first half, but there were certainly some non-calls that could have gone the other way. Fortunately, at 10:44 we get our answer. In order for the refs to start calling penalties, the first line has to create an incredibly dangerous scoring opportunity that's only stopped because Datsyuk gets tripped and then cross-checked as he gets back up. I'm going to give Datsyuk and Holmstrom a half-plus each on drawing this penalty, as Datsyuk is the dangerous one that forces the penalty, but Homer does such a great job of creating the space for this play to develop as it does, that I think he deserves credit.
Penalty Adjustment (weeee!): Darren Helm and Todd Bertuzzi make a good pair on the ice, they really do. With the Wings putting on good pressure in the St. Louis zone, Helm takes the puck off the boards, beating two defenders in the process. After a nice stick-handling move, he beats two more defenders on his way to no doubt shoot a backhand into Halak's chest (I kid because I love). This forces Sobotka to take down the speedster and earn Detroit another power play. Helm gets a plus.
2nd Period 16:07 - Detroit Goal: Niklas Kronwall (wrist shot) from Danny Cleary and Darren Helm
The Blues kill off the Sobotka penalty, but give up a goal before he can return to the play. Helm and Hudler pressure the puck on the boards and create a Crombeen turnover to Cleary at the low side boards. Cleary turns and finds Kronwall sneaking in down low, who receives the pass and takes a step before firing a shot from between the dots over Halak's glove while Barrett Jackman screens with his big, stupid caveman head. Hudler and Helm will each get half-assists for their work freeing up the puck, but none of the Wings' players will keep their pluses on this play since it's essentially a power play goal that didn't officially count as one. Cleary, Stuart, Hudler, Helm, and Kronwall lose their pluses on this play.
2nd Period 17:38 - Detroit Goal (PP): Danny Cleary (wrist shot) from Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg
The end of the next shift after the Kronwall goal, Backes loses his mind and gives Holmstrom a chop to the ribs with his stick right above where his pants end and below where his chest protection begins. Despite what Darren Pang would have had anybody believe here, I don't think Homer was faking the pain this caused. The ref sends Backes into a small glass box to think about what he's done. On the ensuing power play, Pavel Datsyuk wins the faceoff leading to a 24-second puck-cycling clinic put on by the five-man unit of the Wings' power play, culminating in a goal for Cleary. The power play had previously been accused of being "too cute" by several very knowledgeable commenters, but this play showed the difference between "cute" passing and ruthless efficiency is how much the players are moving around in the zone with and without the puck. It would take another half-page to explain all of the passes here, but it ends as Rafalski in the corner tries to one-time tip a pass to Zetterberg in the slot that's broken up. Cleary rushes to poke the puck away from his man at the boards to Zetterberg, who beats two PKers with a blind backhand pass to Lidstrom standing 50 feet from Halak and ready to release a slap shot at him. Halak stops the initial shot, but the rebound lies beside him for Cleary to step out from behind the net and put home from the angle. Cleary will get a full assist on his own goal and Zetterberg will get a plus for the board battle. Also, Rafalski and Datsyuk each receive half-assists for their passing that just so happens to not count on the official scoresheet, despite being crucial to the play that developed.
Penalty Adjustment: To start the third period, the Blues kill off the remnants of an Ian Cole holding the stick penalty that was kind of chintzy and mostly lazy on his part and are able to create a short amount of time in the zone. Valtteri Filppula blocks a Carlo Colaiacovo slap shot from the point and immediately steps around him to head the other way on a partial breakaway where he forces the Blues' defender to haul him down to protect Halak from the embarrassment that was sure to come. This is great hustle by Filppula and he deserves a plus.
3rd Period 2:46 - Detroit Goal (PP): Nicklas Lidstrom (slap shot) from Henrik Zetterberg and Brian Rafalski
On the man advantage, the Blues manage to clear the zone and Alex Steen does a decent job ticking off seconds by forcing a board battle in the Wings' end. Rafalski ends up with the puck and heads up ice, passing to Holmstrom as he crosses into the Blues' zone with the space created by a change in PK personnel. Homer skates to the middle drawing three penalty killers to him before dropping back to Rafalski, who goes across ice and low to Zetterberg. While the penalty kill is still trying to rebound from the movement and get their box set up, Zetterberg passes back to Lidstrom at the point. Lidstrom takes two strides backwards with the puck to change the angle and fires a slapshot back across the grain through what he's turned into a three-man screen with Sobotka high, Jackman lower, and Holmstrom right in front, all drawing the play to the left while the shot goes to Halak's right. Such a brilliant play by hockey's brainiest player. I'm going to give Lidstrom a plus for this. Also, Holmstrom gets an assist for his work in drawing defenders to him to get the play set up and in screening Halak. Holmstrom will also pick up a plus for his work doing puck retrieval on this power play. One of the more underrated aspects of Homers' game when he's on is the little things he does to break up the opposition's attempts to clear pucks and start plays the other way.
3rd Period 6:42 - St. Louis Goal (PP): Brad Winchester (tip in) from Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund
St. Louis is on a power play here because at the 5:45 mark of the period, Jiri Hudler takes a holding call 200 feet from his own net by taking his hand off the stick and yanking a jersey. Hudler gets a minus for this. The Blues' power play cycles the puck completely around the zone clockwise three times to get the shot set up [ed: in Australia, the Blues' power play cycles counter-clockwise]. Steen gets from Berglund at the point and fires a wrist shot between Patrick Eaves' legs that hits Brad Stuart and Brad Winchester on it's way past Jimmy Howard. Nothing you can do about a double-Brad deflection. No scoring adjustment (aside from the Hudler minus).
3rd Period 19:30 - Detroit Goal (EN): Nicklas Lidstrom (slap shot) from Danny Cleary and Henrik Zetterberg
The Blues pull Halak with 1:40 left, trying to fuel the comeback. 40 seconds later, Howard waffleboards a puck out of play and the Blues use their timeout, which gives Babcock the ability to put his best three-man unit (Datsyuk-Zetterberg-Cleary) on the ice along with Stuart and Lidstrom. Datsyuk loses the faceoff so cleanly that the puck clears the zone and the Blues have to regroup and dump it back in. Howard loses his stick on the dump-in and Boyes gets it in the corner. He tries to throw it out front, but it hits Lidstrom and bounces to Cleary. Cleary passes to Zetterberg, who has already recognized the play going the other way and has a jump into the neutral zone. Z gets cut off at the blue line, but floats a backhand across the empty net-mouth to Cleary, who cannot put the bouncing puck home with Backes hounding him. Fortunately, Cleary regains possession and gets it to Lidstrom at the point. Lidstrom winds up for a half-slapper which he puts through four Blues players on its way toward the curly fries-clinching hat trick goal. No scoring adjustment on this play.
+1 to Valtteri Filppula: Flip had a fantastic defensive game. Again, I've got an issue with the official scorer who only gave him one takeaway, when I counted three. Of those, he turned all three into good scoring opportunities.
+1 to Darren Helm: While the score was still 4-2 Detroit at the midway point of the third period, the Blues get a great opportunity to tie it when Ian Cole walks Howard down low and puts a shot off the post that ricochets to Steen in the slot for a surefire put-away when Helm sprawls out from out of nowhere and blocks the shot. This play alone is worth a plus.
+1 to Jiri Hudler: He's snakebitten as hell, but he was good again. Four shots on goal, another two attempts, a few great setups and even two hits. His hustle was evident tonight and he made a positive difference for the Wings.
+1 to Ruslan Salei: Led all defensemen in even-strength ice time and killed 2:25 worth of penalties. 3 hits, 3 takeaways, no giveaways and four blocked shots. I may not trust the takeaway stats, but Ruslan Salei was a rock for Detroit again in this game.
+1 to Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom: Again, their play in the Red Wings' defensive end is such a fantastic part of their game that they make really good decisions seem easy and ordinary on a nightly basis where plenty of players would be getting praises heaped upon them for doing it once every ten games or so. Sometimes we all fall into the trap of comparing these guys to only themselves.
Honorable Mentions: I didn't give Kronwall a minus on his penalty because I think the refs called it to make up for a call that they weren't sure about on Salei dumping the puck over the glass (he's not getting a minus because I haven't seen a replay that shows whether it should have been a penalty). I mentioned at the time that it's a good call if the standard remained like that for the whole game, but it didn't. Plays remarkably similar to that were let go five more times over the course of the game, twice for the Wings and three times for the Blues. I thought Stuart and Rafalski each made a couple of good plays, but there were some gaffes on either end that canceled out what might have been pluses.
Up next, the Blackhawks on Friday. At least this time, we won't have to listen to a ten-minute cello rendition of a U2 song before the drop the puck.