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Red Wings Clipped by Canadiens, 3-2

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2-goal performance from Athanasiou not enough to overcome quick strikes by Habs

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Detroit Red Wings Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight the Wings faced off against the Montreal Canadiens who entered the night one point out of a wildcard spot. The Canadiens did not start Carey Price after the recent announcement of a bothersome injury that will cause him to miss the all-star game, however he did serve as backup. Instead the Habs started Antti Niemi who entered the game with a 4.01 GAA and dismal .881 save percentage. The Wings needed to take advantage of this opportunity and test Niemi early and often. For the Wings, Jimmy Howard got the start between the pipes. Howard entered the night having given up at least 3 goals in each of his last 5 contests. The blame may not be entirely on his shoulders for that but this team needs him to be strong on any given night to have a chance.

Mantha was playing in his third game since a lengthy injury layoff. Mantha only had one goal since his return but has looked strong on the ice and was likely hoping to get some results on the stat sheet against the team from his home province. Shea Weber was a late surprise in the lineup after leaving a game last night as a result of taking a puck to the face.

This was a game with some familiar faces playing against past teammates. De la Rose playing for the Wings after the Habs placed him on waivers early in the season. Tomas Tatar returned to his stomping grounds after a strong first half of the season putting up 14 goals and 31 points thus far with the Habs.

1st Period

This game got off to a somewhat slow start without much action of note until a few shifts in. The Athanasiou-Glendening-Helm line had a brief flurry of shots on Niemi with the most dangerous coming on a Helm pass from behind the goal line to Glendening in the slot, but Glendening couldn’t beat Niemi with the one timer. The Wings seemed to have the better of the play over the opening few minutes but neither team generated any dangerous chances early.

The Habs first chance came off a play that started with a Domi rush through the zone to Howard’s right. Hronek had trouble keeping up with Domi on the rush and almost provided him with a clean lane to the net. Domi instead took the puck behind the net before making a play to the point. The rebound from the point shot popped to the right of Howard where Drouin tried to find an opening to tuck it away but with no success. The puck sat loose for a moment as Howard couldn’t find it but the Wings did a good job of tying up players allowing Howard to recover the puck.

De la Rose was able to put a good hit on his old teammate Danault at the offensive blue line, but shortly after he took a penalty for holding to give the Habs their first advantage of the game at the midway point of the opening frame. The Wings penalty killers got off to a great start though killing the penalty without giving up a good chance.

An early change in lines saw Mantha out with Nyquist and Larkin, something to keep an eye on and where that put Bertuzzi as a result. With 6:30 to play Helm drew a high stick from Danault when he was attempting to flip the puck from his zone and took Danault’s stick up in the chin. The Wings powerplay performed well generating good movement and a few opportunities culminating with a Cholowski one timer that caught the short side post on a drive from the top of the circle to Niemi’s left. However the Wings could not find the back of the net on the chance and the Habs killed off the penalty. One note on the powerplay was Larkin playing the “bumper” role in the middle.

Shortly after the Wings powerplay ended the Habs hit a post of their own on Howard’s blocker side. Moments after that they drew a hooking penalty with Kronwall taking the trip to the box for the Wings. The Habs did get some sustained pressure in the Wings zone this time, but still did not create any notable chances beyond a Domi shot that he held too long, and a brief scrum in the crease area as the penalty expired. After the penalty ended the Wings tried a shift with Nyquist, Larkin, and Athanasiou. So Blashill seemed to be trying some different combinations at the top of the lineup with Nyquist and Larkin.

The period came to an end with no score, and a shot advantage of 9-8 in the Wings favour. Vanek continued to defer shooting opportunities to others and had a couple giveaways on no-look passes that were picked off by Habs defenders. The Helm-Glendening-Athanasiou line seemed to do a good job generating some offense in a period that lacked it.

2nd Period

The Habs got the jump on the Wings early in the 2nd period. Howard had trouble with a Danault shot from the left circle. The rebound fell to the goal line to the left of the net, Tatar pounced on it and knocked the puck back out front of the net where Gallagher was able to find the loose puck after getting free from Hronek and put it into an open net with Howard falling backwards after the Tatar play, 1-0 Canadiens.

Not long after the Canadiens opened the scoring, the Habs entered the Wings zone on a harmless looking rush. The Wings deflected away an attempted pass that then deflected off Domi’s skate to Armia in the high slot. Armia pulled the puck back and let a wrist shot go that beat Howard to the glove side. 2-0 Canadiens.

Just like that the Wings found themselves in another game that they would have to come back in after spotting the Habs a 2-0 lead 1:36 into the period. A few minutes after the poor start to the period, the Wings got their first chance to strike back when the Habs turned the puck over at the top of their zone on a play that should have easily cleared. Credit to Glendening on causing the turnover. The puck came back down the boards to Athanasiou who quickly picked it up and reversed direction towards Niemi. It was a 2 on 1 chance with Helm being available to the far side of the Habs net. The lone defender played the pass which allowed Athanasiou a shooting lane on his off wing. After hesitating for a moment, AA let a shot go that rang off the cross bar and in on the glove side of Niemi. Niemi barely flinched on the shot, 2-1.

The game picked up some pace following the goal with the Habs demonstrating some of their speed with the Drouin and Domi line. Howard made his best save of the night midway through the period on a Habs shot from the slot that forced him to react quickly with his glove on a shot labelled for the lower glove side. The Wings had the next chance on a potential AA and Vanek 2 on 1 but a return pass from Vanek was well off the mark to AA and ended the chance. On the ensuing Habs rush Tatar came very close to having his soul removed by Witkowski when the defender stepped up on him at the red line. Tatar reacted just in time to spin and avoid taking the entire blow and only lost a glove as a result.

With 8:00 to play the Wings went to another powerplay on a Weber interference call. The Wings had some good puck movement on the powerplay and shoveled a few pucks to the net but never came very close. As the powerplay was about to expire, Bertuzzi caught not one but two shots from friendly fire manning the front of the net. The second, a Mantha shot from the right side boards that hit him in the ankle, seemed to do the most damage as Bertuzzi had to hobble to the bench afterwards.

After the powerplay the teams traded some shots back and forth with the most dangerous series coming from the Domi line on a net front scramble in front of Howard managing a couple of successive shots. With just over 2:00 to play Ehn made a nifty rush weaving through the Habs defenders well enough to draw a hooking penalty. The Wings had trouble even entering the Montreal zone for the first minute of the powerplay. Even after they finally did get setup in the zone they did not generate anything noteworthy until a final couple shot attempts in the closing seconds of the period but none ended up on target.

After a rough start to the period the Wings bounced back well to get themselves back into this game. The Wings carried a 12-10 shot advantage in the period for a 21-18 overall lead to this juncture. Both teams powerplay units did not look good thus far and an improvement from either could have been a decider in this game in the final period.

3rd Period

The Wings needed to get off to a better start this period and...or not, Montreal scores less than 20 seconds in. On another harmless looking rush, the Wings had proper numbers back but failed to pick up a trailing Petry who picked up the pass just as he crossed the blue line and approached through the slot before putting a shot on blocker side. Howard got a piece with his blocker but not enough and the Habs struck early once again, 3-1 Canadiens.

The Wings didn’t show much urgency following the goal but got another powerplay opportunity after Domi got called for an offensive zone hold on Hronek. This time they looked much more lethal with a combination of Bertuzzi, Nyquist, Mantha, AA, and Hronek on the ice. After Nyquist put a shot on net from the slot, the puck found it’s way back out from Bertuzzi to Mantha at the point with the Habs collapsing on their own net. Without panic Mantha motioned for the shot before sliding the puck down low to a waiting Athanasiou who made no mistake with the one timer into the back of the net before Niemi could seal the post, 3-2.

The Wings were ready to make this interesting down the stretch. The next chance was once again off the stick of Athanasiou who got in behind the Habs defence, but had the puck knocked away before being able to make a move on Niemi on what may have been an undetected hook. The Wings continued to push with the next chance coming on a sustained pressure shift and the best chance on a play where Vanek circled behind the net and put the puck into a mess of bodies out front of Niemi that couldn’t quite find it’s way to Bertuzzi. Next up Ehn had a chance on a shot from just above the hash marks to the right of Niemi. The Wings were pushing hard before the period even reached the halfway mark. As noted on the broadcast this could have been partially the result of the Habs being on the second half of back to backs and arriving late into Detroit this morning. The pressure resulted as it often does in a penalty; to Tatar on a trip of Larkin as he rushed through the neutral zone. The powerplay took awhile to get going, but the Wings got a great chance off a Mantha feed across the slot to Nyquist who put a shot on net. If not for great control of the rebound by Niemi, Bertuzzi was ready standing on the door step. The Habs managed to kill off the remainder of the penalty though.

The Wings pressure seemed to subdue a bit following the powerplay chance. The Habs went into shutdown mode clogging up the neutral zone preventing clean entries. With about 5:00 to play Gallagher picked up a puck near his own blue line after it was rimmed around the boards. To his detriment his head was not turned to face what was coming and he was subject to a vintage Kronwalling!

The hit combined with the clock winding down seemed to invigorate the Wings as the press was once again on. Howard was pulled with about 1:30 to go and Athanasiou was added as the extra attacker. Just as he came flying into the zone the puck found it’s way to him in the slot, but his shot attempt was deflected away over the net. A few seconds later the puck was once again on AA’s stick in the slot on a pass up high from Cholowski but AA was turned with his back to the net and by the time he turned to get a shot off the defense had closed and knocked the puck away. The Wings had a a couple more chances to set up on offensive zone faceoffs but never came close again, Wings lose 3-2.

Wrapping Up

Another night, another one goal loss for the Red Wings. Unfortunately, this is what separates the top of the league from the bottom of the league is the teams that “find a way” to get the upper hand at the end of these contests. The good news is the Wings played well most of this game except for a few lapses that bit them. The key in this one was slow starts in the 2nd and 3rd periods. Athanasiou had a great game including a few chances to net the hat trick. Ehn had a good game getting a few opportunities for decent shots on the 4th line. The Larkin line drove the bus a lot as it often does. Howard had a fine performance. All in all there weren’t many Wings that you could point out that had a bad game, but they need some more high level players to generate higher quality chances. Anyway, this loss puts the Wings at 1-6-2 in their last 9. Next up the Wings head to Winnipeg to play the Jets Friday night.

Until then, LGRW!