Detroit flew into Pittsburgh to try and improve their road record this season against a very defensively tough Penguins team. The Pens, minus Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, iced a dangerous squad which plays very well within their Dan Bylsma-led defensive system. The game was played incredibly tight, but the Wings were able to capitalize on their chances better and came away with the win.
The referees very well could have turned what was a very entertaining game into a choppy snoozefest by calling chintzy penalties. Instead, they let a lot of stuff go, didn't fall for a few embellishments, and only called six minors throughout the game. Detroit was able to capitalize on one of their two chances while holding the Penguins' power play off the board all four times. After being outshot 12-5 in the 2nd period and 18-13 to that point, the Wings closed the gap on the shot chart, ending the game with 25 shots to Pittsburgh's 26.
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Jimmy Howard got absolutely victimized on an Evgeni Malkin shot in the first period and then almost gave him two more goals, as one dripped through him and another hit the far post. Still, close to failure is not failure. Howard shut the door on the second-chance try in the 2nd period and held strong throughout the game. He was the difference between a tie game after two periods and the Wings having to play the third from behind. He's going to get a +1 in the head-to-head and a +1.5 in the overall rating.
Scoring and plus/minus analysis after the jump
1st Period 19:54 - Pittsburgh Goal: Evgeni Malkin (snap shot) from James Neal and Brooks Orpik
After a very tight-checking and hard-fought first period, the Wings find themselves down a goal by taking a late chance with too much time on the clock and getting caught in an odd-man rush. Nik Kronwall steps up in the zone to receive a pass in a scoring slot from Val Filppula. The shot is blocked by Orpik and picked up by James Neal, who finds Evgeni Malkin pushing up ice with a bank-pass around Henrik Zetterberg off the boards. Malkin skates in 2-on-1 with Chris Kunitz against Brad Stuart. Stu covers the passing lane well, but Malkin never uses it, as he steps to the faceoff dot and snaps it low to the far side on Howard. The decision to pinch by Kronwall to create an offensive chance is not the problem on this play. Getting the shot blocked is not a problem on this play. Henrik Zetterberg is well-established at the top of the zone, but he's not paying attention to his defensive responsibility while he's up there. Zetterberg is the one who lets Malkin go and therefore Zetterberg is the one who will earn an extra minus for his blown coverage. In fact, I'm going to clear the minuses of Hudler, Filppula, Kronwall, and Stuart on this play. The odd-man break is so clean and so fast that it's not reasonable to expect Stuart to be able to both prevent a pass to break Kunitz in alone on Howard while at the same time pressuring Malkin farther to the outside.
2nd Period 16:01 - Detroit Goal: Pavel Datsyuk (backhand) from Todd Bertuzzi
The Wings break pressure in their own end and carry up ice for a dump-in. While Franzen and Bertuzzi pressure behind the net, Pavel Datsyuk cuts off Chris Kunitz's angle up ice. Kunitz tries a cross-ice feed to James Neal coming out of the zone. The pass misses and Lidstrom picks it up to get it back to Datsyuk turning at the blue line. Pavel dumps it in while Bertuzzi tags up to stay onside. Marc-Andre Fleury goes behind the net and sets it up for Matt Niskanen to pick up, but Bertuzzi hustles to cut him off to take the puck away on the boards. While Neal pressures in to cut him off, Bert throws the puck to Datsyuk cutting in through the middle. Malkin slightly deflects it to prevent Pavel from picking it up cleanly, but he recovers and moves to his backhand to get an angle around Brooks Orpik as he goes down to block. The shot beats Fleury to the blocker side to tie the game. The forecheck-and-steal by Todd Bertuzzi will earn him a bonus plus.
3rd Period 05:15 - Detroit Goal (PP): Johan Franzen (wrist shot) from Pavel Datsyuk
The Penalty - Matt Niskanen (holding): Johan Franzen blocks a shot high in the Red Wings' zone and then gets a step around Niskanen going the other way. Pavel Datsyuk threads an incredible pass to him which forces Niskanen to give him a tug on the hips with his loose hand to slow him down. This play will earn Franzen a plus and Datsyuk a half-plus.
The Wings gain possession on the faceoff and cycle around for a slap shot just wide by Lidstrom. Datsyuk picks it up on the far side and tries to put it back in on net, but has his attempt blocked by Paul Martin at the bottom of the circle. The puck bounces off Franzen's stick in the slot and goes to far side boards where Matt Cooke gets to it first. Cooke tries clearing high through the center, but Datsyuk blocks the attempt and turns it back in, catching the entire Pittsburgh PK unit moving the wrong way. Datsyuk dishes to Franzen on his wing to the middle. Orpik is not in good position to block the shot that Franzen releases from the high slot and Fleury is caught absolutely guessing as the puck beats him high on the short side. I'm going to award Lidstrom a half-assist on this play. The intentionally-wide unblocked shot continues to create problems for defenses and makes a difference on this play. Pavel Datsyuk will also pick up a plus for being in the right position to block the Matt Cooke clearing attempt and turn it back up ice. I'm having a hard time judging Tomas Holmstrom's contribution to this play. He's definitely not screening Fleury, but you hardly see a goalie freeze so badly on a shot like this. I honestly don't think Fleury plays this like he does without Homer in his office. I'm going to award Holmstrom a half-non-touch assist for this.
Penalty Adjustment (x2): 05:57 Jiri Hudler holding and 12:58 Jiri Hudler tripping - The first Hudler penalty comes shortly after the Wings' PP goal and it just the kind of call that refs love to make. I'm not going to give Hudler a minus on this one because of the stiff-arm hold that Neal gives Hudler. It looked a lot like those two were trying to hug. The second penalty comes on a backcheck on Evgeni Malkin in the Red Wings zone when Hudler gets his stick into Malkin's feet and brings him down. Hudler won't be so lucky on this one, drawing a minus for taking the penalty.
3rd Period 15:26 - Detroit Goal: Danny Cleary (wrist shot) from Chris Conner and Darren Helm
The Wings kill off the Hudler penalty and get a clear down ice. Pittsburgh dumps it back in and sends Cooke and Orpik deep to retrieve it. Matt Cooke wins the race to it, but his centering attempt goes off Orpik's skate to the corner. Malkin and Helm battle for the loose puck while Jordan Staal sneaks low from his position covering for Orpik in order to try and help the Penguins win the battle. Malkin and Staal run a quick give-and-go to escape Helm and get it moving toward the middle of the ice. Malkin carries toward the net, but has his path cut off by Jonathan Ericsson. Here, Malkin tries to dump it back to Staal for a snap shot from the faceoff dot while Cooks screens Howard. Staal misplays the puck, which gives Helm the room he needs to step in front of him and cut off his angle to free it up for Chris Conner to start up ice. Cleary joins them and the Wings essentially have a 3-on-1 against Simon Despres. Conner and Cleary separate as they skate up ice together with Conner taking the Wing and Cleary driving the center lane with Helm on the far wing in support. Despres makes a judgment mistake of overcommitting to stop a Conner shot and trusting that Staal has gotten back on the play. This gives Conner a lane to pass to Cleary charging hard. With a full step on his #11 counterpart, Cleary redirects the pass from Conner into the back of the net for the insurance marker. Darren Helm will pick up a full bonus plus while Chris Conner will get a half-plus for their work to catch a long-shifted Penguins team pinching and turn it up ice. Also, while there won't be an adjustment for it, Danny Cleary makes a very heads-up play the way he positions his skates to prevent Jordan Staal from getting his stick in on the passing attempt. He takes a wide stance which would all but force Staal to do something penalty worthy to break up the play.
3rd Period 19:54 - Detroit Goal (EN): Danny Cleary (wrist shot) Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall
The Penguins pull Fleury for the extra attacker late and the Wings make them pay for it with a beauty empty-netter from Danny Cleary. Zetterberg has an earlier chance to create one for Datsyuk, but doesn't see him across the ice and instead cycles back to Kronwall deep in the Wings zone. This almost turns tragic as Kronner has his pass attempt deflected by James Neal into the middle of the ice where it's picked up by Malkin. A diving block by Stuart and a bit of a Malkin flub stops this chance from going in. Kronwall gets back into position and tries to clear the loose puck, but he flubs this too. Pascal Dupuis gets a running start into a shot from the middle of the ice, but Kronwall goes down and blocks it with 15 seconds left. Zetterberg jabs it to the boards away from both Neal and Dupuis where Cleary can pick it up and angle Dupuis off to escape the zone. Dupuis tries a diving poke check which fails and leaves Cleary to skate in alone on Malkin back playing goal. Cleary outwaits Malkin to create a clear shooting lane before putting it in. For an empty-netter, this one was a a bit scary. First off, Zetterberg is going to lose half of his plus for failing to pick up his teammate open on the other side of center and helping the Penguins' offensive zone pressure with the back-pass. Kronwall is going to lose his full plus. He turns the puck over in his own zone and then flubs another clearing attempt. If not for Stuart saving his ass, Kronner is facing an extra minus. For his hard work, Stuart will gain a half-plus. It's not just the quick response on Malkin in the middle (starring Frankie Muniz), but the entire way he plays this shift which makes a difference.
1st Period 11:40 - Johan Franzen (slashing): Franzen gets unlucky enough to have Pascal Dupuis' stick break on a weak slash. This is essentially a random happenstance. If he takes more of a swing, he'd get a minus, but this one was more about the unlucky stick break.
1st Period 13:32 - Pittsburgh Bench (Too many men): [Insert joke from 2009 here]. This one wasn't forced, but the Wings were doing a good job penalty killing when it happened.
2nd Period 01:02 - Nicklas Lidstrom (hooking): Way too many hooks like this went uncalled to give a minus for this one, a play in which Lidstrom has his stick held by James Neal.
+1 to Nicklas Lidstrom: TPH had a solid defensive game and helped limit chances against. He got credit for two blocked shots, but I'm still waiting for the deflected shots stat to show exactly how many attempts he neutralizes into the netting.
+1.5 to Niklas Kronwall: A couple of gaffes very late should not shadow the supremely good job he did playing the tough minutes against the Penguins' most dangerous line. He was very good in this one.
+1 to Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl: They got the easier defensive assignments, but they played them extremely well. Ericsson went to the boards and separated people from pucks over and over while Kindl made all the smart plays through the middle.
+1 to Pavel Datsyuk: I kind of love it when the Wings get to play "whose Russian is better" because Pavel consistently wins that battle. He certainly did in this game. Malkin was dangerous to be sure, but Datsyuk had the extra level of defensive play and vision which made the difference.
+1 to Chris Conner, Darren Helm, and Danny Cleary: The entire line took it to the Penguins and created chances. Combined with the the eight minutes of PK time shared between them, they were defensive difference-makers.
The Filppula-Zetterberg-Hudler line was dangerous at times and was given the toughest line matchup, but they got outplayed for the most part. Ian White had something of a quiet, but solid game. I liked what I saw from Abdelkader, Holmstrom, and Drew Miller, but not enough to give them bonuses.
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