The Detroit Red Wings lost their second in a row and eighth in nine games last night as they were defeated by the Vancouver Canucks at GM Place. The loss, together with the Dallas Stars' 6-3 win over Nashville, cut the Wings' League and Conference lead to just six points.
The game looked promising before it even started, as a scrum around center ice instigated by Jeff Cowan and Aaron Downey seemed to indicate a spirited contest was coming. It remains to be seen whether the two teams will face disciplinary measures for the incident, however. Downey, in particular, may find himself in trouble as he jabbed Cowan with his stickblade at one point.
Both Roberto Luongo and Jimmy Howard were called upon to make big saves early on. Henrik Zetterberg was robbed by the Canucks goalie at 1:06 following a centering pass from Mikael Samuelsson. Seconds later, Luongo made another key save on rookie Ericsson. At the other end, Howard stoned Mason Raymond at 1:49. It was Howard who got the most work early in the game. He look very strong.
Despite determined efforts, the Canucks did not get on the board until 14:26 of the first. The goal came just after an offensive zone faceoff. Daniel Sedin won it back to Mattias Ohlund, who slid it across to Alexander Edler. His shot deflected off Jonathan Ericsson out front and beat Howard to put the Canucks up 1-0.
The Wings' efforts at making a comeback were hampered by an awful turnover by Andreas Lilja in the defensive zone. Somehow Howard managed to make the save on Ryan Shannon at 15:17. Not long after that, the Canucks had a nice break into the Detroit zone, with Henrik Sedin ripping a shot that was just deflected high and wide by his #33 counterpart, Kris Draper.
Johan Franzen injected some excitement when he stole the puck in the Vancouver end and turned it into a nice scoring chance. Mike Weaver's diving attempt to knock the puck away resulted in the big Swede going down and a Detroit power play. Franzen still managed to get a shot off, but he sent it wide.
On the subsequent power play, the Wings took a criticism of their passing crispness in Calgary to heart: they sent the puck rocketing around the zone as they cycled it. The puck ended up on Tomas Holmstrom's stick below the goalline and he sent it out to Derek Meech at the point. Meech pump faked for a second and then released a blast that tricked through Luongo and into the net. At first it looked like Meech's first NHL goal, but it was later determined that Pavel Datsyuk had gotten his stick on it. The goal came at 16:54.
Meech, who was already having a strong game, looked particularly good in the minutes following his apparent goal. He had a great shift with the top line in the final minute of the period and continued to look like he belonged out there.
Some end of the first festivities resulted in the teams skating four a side to start the second. Both teams got some good chances in this time, but neither converted.
During five-on-five play, a nice breakout started by Andreas Lilja and Derek Meech resulted in a power play when Tomas Kopecky was tripped up at center as he tried to get around Henrik Sedin.
Brett Lebda had a great chance at putting the Wings up 2-1 early in the power play, but he took too long to shoot and Luongo had an easy save. At 6:07, the Canucks took another penalty and gave the Wings 59 seconds of 5-on-3. They put on a good show, but they couldn't convert. One of the more obvious reasons for this was Pavel Datsyuk's overly hard passes that even Henrik Zetterberg couldn't handle. Meech looked like a solid power play quarterback here. When Sedin came out of the box and the Wings had a regular power play, they could barely get set up. A definite wasted opportunity.
At 10:09, the referees made it up to the Canucks for having given the Wings a 5-on-3 by calling an atrocious roughing penalty on Kyle Quincey. They may as well have called it "2:00 for playing defense" because that's all Quincey did. Unfortunately for the Wings, they were unable to hold the Canucks off on the power play. They scored and took the lead at 10:39 off a beautiful set up to Sami Salo. Howard had no chance of stopping it.
Not long after the goal, Derek Meech rang a shot off the post for a brief moment of excitement.
Pavel Datsyuk drew a penalty at 14:33 that had the Canucks fans crying "dive!" The Wings put their "pass first" mentality to good use on this power play, as that was about all they did: pass. Their best chance came late in the power play as Jonathan Ericsson unleashed a monster of a shot. It resulted in nothing, however.
The Wings returned to the power play at 18:01 and did somewhat better to start. Ericsson had a great chance as he jumped up in the play, but Burrows lifted his stick just in time. After that, the Canucks mostly controlled the puck. Not the best power play, overall.
The Canucks came out strong in the third period and countered any Detroit chances with offensive opportunities of their own. They extended their lead at 3:31 following a horrible Brett Lebda turnover at the Vancouver blueline. Ryan Kesler broke in to the Detroit end down the left side with Henrik Zetterberg trailing. Kesler cut across the net and put the puck under Howard to make it 3-1. It was a bad turnover and a fairly clear breakaway, but that's one you'd like to see Howard stop.
The Wings looked out of it after that as the Canucks refused to let off the gas. Howard really had to work to keep the score as it was. When the Wings managed to get an offensive chance, Luongo hardly ever gave up a rebound. This made a comeback unlikely as the best Detroit was able to do was shoot the puck at Luongo's chest, with no hope for a follow-up.
Tomas Kopecky took a weak penalty at 11:24, but the Wings fortunately killed it off. There was a bit of an injury scare as Andreas Lilja took a shot off the leg and limped around for a while. Fortunately, he shook it off and finished the game.
The Canucks finalized the scoring at 17:00 on a play similar to their third goal. This time it was Lilja who was beaten at the blueline and Pavel Datsyuk who was desperately trying to get back. Kesler cut across the net again, but this time he drop-shot it and beat Howard under his right leg.
The game wound down after that, with the Wings making only feeble attempts to cut the lead.
There was a bit of an injury scare at 11:45 of the first, as Derek Meech found himself on the wrong end of a Jeff Cowan hit. Meech hunched over and seemed to be favoring his ribs, though it looked like it was his shoulder that received the brunt of it on the replay. Fortunately, he returned and whatever it was did not seem to be bothering him. He played yet another strong game with 22:17 in TOI.
Jonathan Ericsson looked good again, though perhaps not so good as he had in his first game. I've noticed that he's a little casual with the puck in his own end. Hopefully that'll get corrected soon. He played 20:39.
Kyle Quincey was solid, though not spectacular, and played only 13:39. Garrett Stafford did not stick out much, but he only played 8:29, so you might say he was underutilized.
It was not Brett Lebda's best game, but the reason for that is simple: he played a heck of a lot. 28:17, to be exact. That's far more than another other skater.
Andreas Lilja played 20:42 and was himself.
I'd like to see Mike Babcock utilize Aaron Downey more often. 4:47 seems kind of low when the team could really use the spark he provides.
Pavel Datsyuk had an off night, despite scoring the Wings' only goal. He was trying too hard, as his passing indicated. He was rifling the puck around and made it very difficult for this teammates to take his passes. With the offensive already out of sync, having the team's best forward passer ripping the puck around doesn't improve the situation.
I think my confidence in the team's ability to overcome fatigue was a little misplaced. They were obviously tired, from the veterans down to the rookie defensemen. Hopefully they'll be able to rest up sufficiently for their game Tuesday night in Edmonton.
Although the young defensemen are playing well, there is an obvious disconnect between them and the forwards on breakouts and in-zone setups. The team will have today off, but will practice together Monday and that will hopefully solve at least some of the problems.