Tonight’s matchup at Little Caesars Arena featured the visiting LA Kings. The Kings came into the contest sitting in 30th place in the league, only ahead of Chicago. A surprising development for a team with generally high expectations and given the stage in the season are seeming less and less likely to snap out of it. The Wings came into tonight trying to break their streak of blown leads recently. They’ve lived and died by late lead changes a lot this season.
Jimmy Howard returned to the net after Bernier received back to back starts in the last two games with Howard’s last start being the 6-5 SO loss to Tampa almost a week ago. For the Kings, Jonathan Quick was between the posts in his 6th start since his injury that knocked him out throughout November. Excluding a tough night against the Devils he’s been solid since his return trying to help the Kings turn their season around.
For the Wings, Daley drew back into the lineup after missing some time with injury. As a result Witkowski found himself back in the press box. Up front the lineup looked much the same with a 4th line tonight of Frk - De la Rose - Ehn. Megan was the scratch up front tonight. The obvious man to watch for the Kings is Drew Doughty who paces the team in assists and the always dangerous Anze Kopitar.
The Wings grabbed the first few shots in this one with a generally slow start to the game. Both teams failed to generate smooth zone entries leading to some sloppy back and forth play early. As the game approached the midway point of the period, De la Rose hit Ehn with a nice pass out of the zone. Ehn gained the opposition line and as three Kings players closed on him they failed to pick up Cholowski who had jumped in on the rush . Ehn put a nice touch on a pass over to the streaking Cholowski who had a lane open on Quick’s right. Quick was down early and exposed himself on the short side, and Cholowski picked up on the goaltender’s error and put one up high as he drove the net, 1-0 Wings.
Shortly after the goal the Wings picked up the game’s first penalty on an Ericsson holding call. The Kings finally picked up their first few shots in the game on the powerplay including on a series where Larkin broke his stick. But the Wings killed the penalty off and avoided any dangerous chances for the Kings.
The next opportunity belonged to the Wings on a Kings turnover in the high slot to Nyquist who quickly put the puck on net and just missed high to Quick’s glove side. Next up Rasmussen made a nice deflection on a puck out of mid air redirecting the puck toward Quick’s five hole but he was fast to close the opening. The Wings were doing a good job of getting traffic in front of Quick on most shots so far in this one. With about 5:00 remaining the period the Kings generated what was their first sustained zone pressure beyond the powerplay try, but they couldn’t get the puck to the center of the ice with the Wings doing a good job keeping the puck outside. On a Detroit pinch where the defender got caught the Kings got a 2 on 1 chance with Wagner carrying the puck into the zone. Daley did a good job taking away the pass option forcing Wagner to keep on the play and hesitate before trying to beat Howard high on the short side. Howard did a good job challenging the shot and getting his glove in position to knock the shot away. That was the best chance he’d faced to that point.
The only other chance to report in the period was a distance shot from Ericsson from the point when he floated one towards the net. The puck deflected straight up into the air off of a body in front landing right in front of Quick. But no Wings were nearby to pickup the loose puck and the Kings skated it away from danger.
The 4th line looked good in the opening frame including generating the only goal in the period. The Wings seemed to evenly distribute ice time in the period and this was evidenced by the statistics with everyone getting at least 4:00 except Frk and Rasmussen who generally tend to pick up a good portion of their ice time on the powerplay. The Kings ended up with the shot advantage 10-8 after the period closed.
The pace picked up significantly to start the 2nd period with the teams exchanging some high speed rush shots each way including a few 2 on 1 chances with the Kings getting the best of the chances. Howard made a great slide across to make a tough save look routine. The other notable chance was on a Luff one timer to the right of Howard that Ericsson made a potentially goal saving block on. The shot stung him and he hobbled to the bench afterwards.
Shortly after, the Wings got a chance on a bit of a broken defensive play where Nielsen picked up a loose puck in front of Quick with he and Athanasiou almost completely uncovered out front. Nielsen spun and shot, the rebound popped right back to him with Quick sliding out of his net to his left. Nielsen hesitated to allow Quick to slide further out of position and put the puck in the open net, 2-0 Wings.
The Kings next chance came from Toffoli who off of a Kings faceoff win in the Wings zone got loose in the high slot as too many Wings players challenged the defensemen at the point leaving Toffoli uncovered. He pulled it through the top of the slot and put a good shot in on Howard but Jimmy was able to swallow it up with no rebound. The Wings had a great 2 on 1 chance after that with Nyquist carrying the puck into the zone and Green streaking in. Nyquist faked the shot with a leg kick before sliding a pass over to Green but the pass deflected off the defender’s skate before getting to Green and he could only swipe at it and couldn’t put a shot on net.
Thompson was the next to come close on a scramble play in front of Howard with Jimmy sprawled out along the bottom of the net making the save before the Wings cleared the puck. A few minutes later the Wings got their first powerplay opportunity of the game on a Kempe holding penalty. The Wings ran a pretty good powerplay working the puck around the Kings zone and generated a handful of shots but nothing that could find the back of the net.
The Wings picked up their play after that powerplay with the best chance coming on a feed across the high slot from Cholowski to Larkin who one timed it. His shot just missed wide with Quick still trying to get across. Just a couple minutes later the Kings made a brutal turnover off the stick of Forbort from the side boards. The puck went right to Larkin at the top of the zone and he had the Kings skating the wrong way, deked a sliding Doughty, before going backhand to forehand deke on Quick and putting it in, 3-0 Wings.
That goal essentially closed the period giving the Wings a 3-goal lead to start the final period. The speech in the room no doubt was largely focused on keeping things tight defensively and holding on to this lead. The Kings again outshot the Wings in this period, this time 14-9 for a game total of 24-17. It was the top of the lineup grabbing the attention this period with Larkin and Nyquist highlighting the offensive side for Detroit.
The dreaded 3-goal lead for the Wings to start the final frame. Could they hold on and keep the Kings at bay to close this one out?
The Kings had the first few shots of the period including a deflection from in tight that found Howard’s glove. Jimmy looked sharp early in the period to preserve the 3-goal lead. The Wings were starting to turn the puck over a bit and looking shaky trying to exit their zone. There were at least 5 passes that deflected off King sticks inside the Wings zone that could raise the heart rate of Wings fans. Despite the uneasy start to the period, the Wings did manage to prevent any prime chances for the Kings through the first half of the period.
The Wings were doing a good job of slowing this game down past the midway point, keeping the Kings to the outside and having enough players on the defensive side of the puck. The clock was bleeding away for the Kings and they didn’t seem to be gaining any urgency to their game.
However, with 6:38 to play Iafallo took one to the net on a drive from the outside. He threw the puck on net from down low and the rebound popped out just in front of Howard off his pad. Despite the Wings having players in position Kopitar got free to pick up the rebound and beat Howard with a backhand to his glove side, 3-1.
That bounce was what the Kings needed to begin their push as they started to come on strong after the goal. They created a few scrambles in front of Howard with the Wings blocking several shot attempts. The Wings responded with a brief surge started by Larkin who drove the puck low into the Kings zone and eventually worked the puck to the point for teammates coming on the ice from a line change. Green put a shot on net that was then deflected by Larkin but Quick made a good save on the play. The Kings continued to push following the brief flurry by the Wings. The Wings narrowly avoided a dangerous chance when Jensen broke his stick on a point shot leading to a potential 2 on 1 for the Kings, but Jensen got to the bench to get a new stick and back in the play to pick up the trailer in time to thwart the chance.
The Kings pulled Quick with 2:30 to play and quickly generated a good chance when Kopitar was allowed to walk in from the half boards to Howard’s left. He put a shot on net that deflected off a teammate’s skate and between Howard’s legs. Howard sealed the puck between his legs and did not allow the Kings to get a chance at the briefly loose puck. The Wings seemed to be giving Kopitar far too much space and time at the half boards even considering the man advantage. Multiple times he either put the puck on net for a scramble or to Toffoli in the slot for a one timer opportunity. Howard came up with several big saves in those last few minutes to preserve the 2-goal lead for the Wings and not allow this one to get too close for comfort. Thanks to Jimmy the Wings were able to close this one out, Wings win!!
Detroit again found themselves in a position to preserve a multi-goal lead and this time they succeeded. In large part the win was Howard’s doing as the Kings peppered him with 43 shots in this one with the Wings only getting 21 of their own. That being said Larkin had a strong performance as did Cholowski, but the first star was certainly Howard. Athanasiou showcased his speed a few times but couldn’t quite get loose for any great chances. You could see why the Kings are where they are in the standings not really generating much until they got behind 3 and had to make a push in the 3rd. This was the first multi-goal win for the Wings since their win against Boston, hopefully with more to come. LGRW!!!