Let’s just get to this.
The Red Wings came out with much better effort than they did on Wednesday night. Playing with an urgency they didn’t display against the Rangers, the Wings were on top of the Flames right from the drop of the puck, spending a lot of time in the offensive zone and generating several quality chances on Jonas Hiller. Justin Abdelkader opened the scoring when he took a gorgeous pass from Henrik Zetterberg and had a breakaway. He beat Hiller glove side, and the Wings led 1-0. That line struck again on the power play when once again, Zetterberg fed Abby, this time in front of the net, and it was 2-0 and it looked like the rout was on. However, Brendan Smith took an ill-advised interference penalty, and it didn’t take long for Sean Monahan to out-deke Jimmy Howard and slide the puck past Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall to cut the lead in half. Despite out-shooting the Flames 14-7 at the end of the first, the score remained 2-1 heading into the 2nd period.
The Wings started the 2nd the same as the first, peppering Hiller with shots and again spending a lot of time in the Flames’ zone. However, it was the Flames who scored when Matt Stajan blasted a big rebound off the back boards off the post and in behind Howard, tying the game and sucking the life out of the Wings. The Flames started to assert themselves after that, establishing a forecheck and not allowing the Wings to cycle at will in their zone. The game settled down, but after a decent shift by the 4th line, they were unable to get off the ice, and Jiri Hudler made them pay when he showed great patience with the puck before shooting through Niklas Kronwall’s legs and inside the post to give the Flames the lead. The Wings outshot the Flames 15-8 in the 2nd, but the Flames led where it counts.
In the third, the Wings didn’t bother to play well at the beginning, instead deferring to the Flames, who have a league-best +30 goal differential in the third period this season. They increased that less than 3 minutes in when Mason Raymond beat Howard glove side to give them a 2-goal lead. The Wings never really threatened after that, and an empty-netter by Hudler sealed the deal, handing the Wings their first loss in 4 games.
- Who had 1.5 games as the over/under before Tomas Jurco was demoted from the 1st line? At the start of the period, Gustav Nyquist replaced Jurco with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Tatar, which can only be seen as a reflection on his play tonight, which wasn’t great. I’m a big believer in Jurco, but watching him tonight I was underwhelmed, and I’m a strong proponent of him playing with skilled players as much as possible. I have a strong suspicion that he will be back playing 4th line minutes when Darren Helm returns, which is not playing to his strengths.
- Mike Babcock called out the 3rd line after Wednesday’s game against the Rangers, saying they weren’t good enough. After a bad first shift, they were strong just about every shift after that, getting much more zone time and shots than Wednesday night. Nyquist was rewarded for his play with a promotion to the first line in Jurco’s spot, but no goals would result from that.
- Watching the Wings play in the defensive zone is becoming a chore. Every Flames goal had a pretty glaring mistake: all 4 defenders completely out of position on the 1st goal, Ericsson not knowing where puck was on the 2nd goal, the forwards standing around and Kronwall not attacking Hudler on the 3rd goal, Ericsson misplaying a non-challenged puck leading to a turnover and Flames maintaining possession on the 4th goal. This doesn’t take into account how many times there were Wing players completely standing still while the Flames were moving on the forecheck. The blueprint to beat the Wings is to pressure their defense, and while the Flames weren’t particularly aggressive on the forecheck, the Wings were willing to oblige.
- The last 4 goals scored by the Detroit Red Wings: Justin Abdelkader (3), Marek Zidlicky (1). The defensive lapses aren’t good, but for most of this season, this team has been unable to outscore those mistakes at even strength.
- If there was a positive, it was the play of the 2nd line. Z/Abby/Cole has turned into a monster line, and in the first period they were especially dominant, scoring 2 goals when they easily could have had more. Even better, Cole high-fived a kid before the game, making him the new favorite player for a lot of fans.
- I’m not going to say that Jimmy Howard was at fault for the loss, but he didn’t look great either. I thought he was extremely frenetic in net, with very inefficient movement across the crease. I have watched Howard play a lot over the years, and to me there’s something in the way he reacts early in the game that tells me whether we’re going to get good Jimmy or not-so-good Jimmy, and I thought not-so-good Jimmy was in net tonight.
- Ultimately, this was a team collapse. The defense as a whole wasn’t good at all, the forwards had a lot of shots but very little quality scoring chances after the 1st period, and Jimmy Howard wasn’t at his best like he was on Wednesday. It was a game they should have won against a tired opponent, but they didn’t so they will put their “haven’t lost twice in a row in regulation” streak on the line Sunday against a desperate Bruins team.