Thunder is Supposed to Make a Noise: Lightning 6 - Red Wings 2
The Red Wings finished off their small Florida trip with a game against last year's playoff opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Red Wings had designs on getting within 2 points of the Lightning and potentially remaining in the race for the a divisional playoff spot. Like so many people who go to Florida, their expectations weren't even close to being met.
The Wings looked great on the first shift, when Anthony Mantha nearly notched his first ever goal when he hit the post. However, the Lightning got the better chances early, and took a quick 1-0 lead thanks to Erik Condra. Tampa continued to press, and led the Wings in shots 10-3 at the halfway point of the period. The Lightning increased their lead after a Niklas Kronwall turnover led to a scramble in front, and Vladislav Namestnikov put home a rebound. The Lightning got the game's first power play off a Luke Glendening penalty, but their power play is as useless as the Wings', so Detroit escaped any further damage.
Shots: 15-7 Tampa Bay
Strong Period: Anthony Mantha
Tough Period: Niklas Kronwall
The second period couldn't have started any worse for the Wings, because 33 seconds in future Red Wing star Steven Stamkos threw a harmless pass towards the front of the net, but it bounced in off Jonathan Ericsson's skate and over Howard's glove. That was the end of Howard's night, and on came Petr Mrazek, as if he didn't feel sick already. Brendan Smith tried to spark the team by fighting J.T. Brown, but only the meatheads got really excited because fights as momentum-builders is a bunch of bunk. The Wings got on the board when their suddenly dangerous power play clicked again, this time with Justin Abdelkader putting a loose puck by Ben Bishop to start the comeback. The goal seemed to wake the Wings up, and several minutes later Darren Helm scored to cut the Lightning lead to 3-2. The Wings ran into penalty trouble, with Abdelkader taking a not-smart penalty when Detroit was already down a man, and Nikita Kucherov took advantage of the Wings being 2 men down and increased the lead to 2.
Score: 4-2 Tampa Bay
Shots: 27-16 Tampa Bay
Strong Period: Andreas Athanasiou, Brad Richards
Tough Period: Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson
For the third straight period, the Wings gave up a goal less than 2 minutes in, this time Ondrej Palat collecting a rebound off Petr Mrazek. To be honest, I mentally checked out of the rest of the game as I'm going on vacation tomorrow, and I was half-watching the game, half-packing. The Wings followed suit, but unfortunately they already had their vacation and forgot to switch back to work mode. Tampa scored late to officially end the comeback that never was, and the rest of the third period was pretty much the Wings running on a hamster wheel: it looked good, but was pointless.
Score: 6-2 Tampa
Shots: 34-25 Tampa
Strong Period: Anthony Mantha
Tough Period: Come on do I really need to spell it out?
Points of Observation
Congratulations to Anthony Mantha on his first NHL point, an assist on Darren Helm's goal. Mantha chipped the puck out to Pavel Datsyuk, who fed Helm. It wasn't pretty, but it was a small play that led to a goal. Mantha was probably Detroit's most effective scorer, and once again had a handful of really good scoring chances. His first goal won't be long, and he's tonight's Player of the Game.
Niklas Kronwall did not have a strong first period. He was slow to recognize Condra getting behind him on Tampa's first goal, and his turnover directly led to the puck getting in front of the Detroit net on the Lightning's second goal. Then Jonathan Ericsson had the puck deflect off him and in the net for Tampa's third goal. In a game in which the Wings were trailing for literally 58 minutes, they were both negative CF% players. Only 5 players on the team were negative, but when 2 of them are one defense pairing, you know they sucked. To call this evening a forgettable one for that pair is unfair, because we will all remember this as yet another game that indicates these two need to be split up.
There was a lot of discussion on the broadcast of Tampa's desire to keep the Red Wings to the outside, which came after Jeff Blashill specifically said he wanted to see the Wings get to the net after their comeback win against Florida. It seemed to work, as the Wings had a really hard time getting inside on the Tampa defense. Here's the shot chart from hockeystats.ca, which seems to confirm the Wings weren't getting to the dirty areas at all.
There will be talk around the internet that Jimmy Howard had a bad game. If you see someone say that, calmly extend your middle finger to your computer screen, close the tab, and go feel some sunshine on your face. Then remind them that Petr Mrazek gave up the same number of goals so they both suck.
I get that the call against Abdelkader to give Tampa the 5-on-3 was soft. But as a veteran player, he has to know that if he extends his arms when he hits a player in the back, he's likely to get called. It was a needless play to make at a time when the Wings really needed to keep the momentum.
At the end of the day, the effort and execution just weren't good enough by the vast majority of the team in a game they needed to make a statement. The statement they did make is that if they don't play flawless hockey, they are in deep trouble against a quality opponent. If there is a brightside, it's that the Flyers choked away a 2-0 lead with 65 seconds to go in the third period against the Blue Jackets, losing in a shootout. That loss allowed the Flyers to tie the Wings in points and take over the 2nd wildcard spot due to having a game in hand, but now they must earn at least a single point in that game or else the Wings will re-take the spot due to having one more ROW than Philadelphia.