The Red Wings traveled to Pittsburgh for the first time this season, hoping to avenge a New Year's Eve drubbing at the hands of the Penguins. Unfortunately, the Penguins treated the Wings as a practice squad, racking up 39 shots and 5 more goals at the expense of Detroit.
A minute in to the game and the teams traded strong scoring chances. The first several minutes were frenetic, with the Red Wings and Penguins moving up and down the ice with a lot of speed. The Wings had a few chances around the net, but couldn't get one past Marc-Andre Fleury. Petr Mrazek was sharp as well, forcing a Phil Kessel breakaway attempt wide. After some Wings pressure, the Penguins struck first when Ben Lovejoy's shot deflected off Darren Helm and through Mrazek. However, the Wings didn't let up, and the got the goal back. Andreas Athanasiou was able to gain the zone, and he passed to Gustav Nyquist. Nyquist found a trailing Tomas Jurco, who made no mistake on his shot to tie the game at 1. The Pens regained the lead when Matt Cullen deflected a point shot that Mrazek saved, but he got his own rebound and put it under Mrazek. The Penguins looked to increase their lead when Kyle Quincey got a penalty for objecting to being held by Sidney Crosby. The Wings killed the first half of the penalty as the period expired, and had 44 seconds to go at the start of the second.
Score: 2-1 Penguins
Shots: 14-10 Penguins
Strong Period: Petr Mrazek
Tough Period: Alexey Marchenko/Xavier Ouellet
The Wings killed off the rest of Quincey's penalty, but did give up a quality scoring chance. However, Dylan Larkin got back on the scoresheet when he collected a rebound and backhanded the puck in the net. The Penguins got the lead 24 seconds later when Kessel took a pass from Crosby and ripped a shot past Mrazek. The game settled down a little bit, although the Wings continued to give up odd-man rushes. There was a stretch in the period when Pavel Datsyuk didn't play, but didn't leave the bench (at least according to those watching FSD, as NBCSN didn't mention it). Blashill came up with some interesting combinations in Datsuyk's absence, but Pavel returned and everything went back to normal. The Wings thought they might have tied it with 5 minutes left in the period, but replays showed that the puck never crossed the line as Justin Abdelkader crashed the net. The Penguins increased their lead late in the period when Scott Wilson scored his first NHL goal after Pittsburgh outworked the entire Red Wing lineup.
Score: 4-2 Penguins
Shots: 27-21 Penguins
Strong Period: No one
Tough Period: The team
The Wings played a very score effects-y period, putting offensive pressure on the Penguins while Pittsburgh retreated into more of a defensive shell. The Pens continued to take chances when they got them, and they capitalized when a Kessel shot was stopped by Mrazek, but he let out a huge rebound that no one felt like getting, and Kessel put the puck in the empty net to effectively end the game. The Wings wouldn't go as quietly as we thought, with Henrik Zetterberg scoring a gorgeous goal to cut the lead to 5-3 with just less than half the period to go. The Wings got some life with their first power play of the game, and they pulled Jimmy Howard (who came on in relief for Mrazek after the 5th Pittsburgh goal)
Score: 6-3 Penguins
Shots: 39-38 Penguins
Strong Period: Henrik Zetterberg
Tough Period: Pavel Datsyuk
Points of Observation
This team has a major Achilles' heel, and it's their inability to handle an aggressive forecheck. This is not a new phenomenon, as it's been a problem for years. But tonight it was quite evident that the Red Wings were not able to deal with the Penguins forwards in their face, especially in the Wings' zone. The defense never had a chance to make a clean first pass, and the forwards looked lost in coverage. The Penguins got 4 goals directly off blown coverages with a couple of feet of the Wings' net. What was concerning was the Wings' inability or refusal to adjust their game to what the Penguins were doing.
It's only been 2 games, so sample size is a consideration, but the Xavier Ouellet of the past 2 games does not look like the Ouellet that played for the Wings last year. He and Alexey Marchenko had a very tough game, with each finishing with a sub-50 CF%. The team as a whole didn't fare well in that respect, but Ouellet and Marchenko were both very obviously struggling.
I'm not sure what to make of Petr Mrazek's performance. On the one hand, he had very little help from the team in front of him, particularly on the first two goals. He dealt with numerous shots that were tipped before they got to him, and made a few spectacular saves. On the other hand, he had two shots go through him, and the 5th goal saw him give up a very large rebound. The scary part is that, regardless of the reason, he's given up 5 goals in back-to-back starts, and he didn't finish a game that he started for the first time this season. If Mrazek is regressing, the Wings could be in some pretty big trouble if they're going to be so leaky defensively.
The same could be said of the first line. They were burned defensively on Pittsburgh's 3rd and 5th goals, but Zetterberg's goal was a thing of beauty that was made possible by Pavel Datsyuk's seamless entry in to the Penguins' zone. It's hard to criticize them for what they've done over the last few weeks, but they could have had a better night.
There were some small positives from the game: Jimmy Howard came on in relief and made a few nice saves. The third line continues to look good, kicking in the first goal of the game. The penalty kill was perfect. The NBCSN broadcast was tolerable.
That's 2 straight losses after a very strong homestand, but the Wings have an opportunity to turn things around with 2 games this weekend. First up is a tilt against the Senators, followed by a match with the Rangers for the first time this year. The last time the Wings had 2 straight poor performances, they followed it up with 5 games of inspired play. Here's hoping history repeats itself.