The Detroit Red Wings halted a four-game skid last night in Buffalo, winning 4-2 off goals from unlikely sources. It was just their second win in 12 games.
Dallas Drake and Kirk Maltby cracked 14- and 36-game goalless streaks, adding to a pair of tallies from more usual goal-scorers, Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula.
The win extended the Wings' Conference and League lead over the idle Dallas Stars from three to five points, but used up one of their games-in-hand. They now have played 67 games to the Stars' 69.
The Wings showed jump from the start of the game, but they fell behind quickly as the Sabres took advantage of an unfortunate bounce in their own end and took it the other way.
Derek Meech missed a bouncing puck along the boards as he pinched on the left side. This resulted in a 3-on-1 with Andreas Lilja as the only Red Wing back. Meech, to his credit, caught up with the play and took the right wing Sabre out of the play, while Lilja attempted to take away the pass.
Maxim Afinogenov's centering pass bounced off Lilja, and the trailing man, Patrick Kaleta, picked it up in the high slot. Dominik Hasek fell, and Kaleta's shot made it 1-0 Buffalo at 2:59.
Following the goal, the Wings put out a strong offensive effort. At the other end, Hasek looked somewhat skittish, but that gradually wore off as he settled down.
At 8:00, Johan Franzen walked into the Sabres' zone virtually untouched and promptly lost the puck in surprise. He drew a weak penalty, however, and put the Wings on the power play. At 9:16, Derek Roy deservedly was called for holding and the Wings were given a two-man advantage. They made good use of the extra ice, making Ryan Miller have to work to keep the score 1-0. In the end, the score remained the same. For all their cycling, the Wings weren't getting effective screens on Miller, who was absorbing the puck and not allowing rebounds.
The Wings got on the board at 11:56 off a fortunate bounce of their own. Niklas Kronwall made a great play the blue line, maneuvering around Steve Bernier and faking a shot. He then skated up the left wing and sent a pass across the crease to Dallas Drake, who was robbed by Miller on the one-timer. This time, however, Miller gave up a rebound and the puck bounced into the net off one of his own defensemen. Tied game.
The Wings took the lead at 5:11 of the second period while on the power play. It began with a nice pinch by Derek Meech that kept the puck in the zone. Johan Franzen picked it up and sent it down to Jiri Hudler at the bottom of the right circle. Hudler hesitated for a split second before sending a hard pass back out to Valtteri Filppula to Miller's right. Fil had an easy time of it redirecting the puck into the net.
Detroit extended their lead at 14:16. Henrik Zetterberg lead a rush up the middle and gave the puck off the Mikael Samuelsson. Samuelsson dropped it off at the blue line to Niklas Kronwall, who made a beautiful shot fake in the process of sending the puck to Johan Franzen. Miller was completely fooled and Franzen had no trouble lobbing the puck into the empty net.
The Sabres got back within a goal with a strange one at 3:12 of the third period. With Kronwall in the box for interference, Kirk Maltby rocked Pominville at center. A scrum resulted in which everyone except a Sabre defenseman participated. While this was going on, Pominville got up, picked the puck out of the feet of the crowd, and skated in on Hasek alone. He scored to make it 3-2. That's two times in two games that the Wings were caught expecting a whistle that never came.
Kirk Maltby rounded out the scoring at 15:52. He was the beneficiary of a nice feed from Pavel Datsyuk out of the corner and sent a rocket from the circle through Miller to make it 4-2 Wings. Datsyuk and Valtteri Filppula had ground the puck out along the boards in a nice effort.
The Sabres put up a good fight toward the end and got some help in that respect by a late Filppula penalty. In the end, though, the Wings were better off shorthanded, as they were able to send the puck the length of the rink without risking icing.
Not a perfect game by the Wings, but a definite start.
Niklas Kronwall was incredible. He was very much "in-the-zone" offensively all night and looked strong defensively as well.
Jiri Hudler had a strong game and looks close to cracking his goalless streak.
Lilja also looked good, I thought. He made a nice save on a Paul Gaustad shot in the second period when the net was wide open. I think the shot was actually going wide, but it was good to see Lilja sacrifice his body like that. He didn't even cover up.
After some early jitters, Hasek settled down. I think the decisive moment was his slide tackle on Daniel Paille toward the end of the first period. Mikael Samuelsson's give away in the Sabres' zone led to a near 2-on-1, but the initial puck carrier stumbled. He managed to send it up to Paille, though, who had an effective breakaway developing before Hasek came well out of the net to take him out. No penalty was called on the play, but I think Hasek enjoyed his little excursion so much that it calmed him down for the rest of the game.
The Wings have a couple days to tinker before they face off against St. Louis Wednesday. They should be getting Brian Rafalski back, and that should help them improve on the effort in Buffalo. We can't know for sure, but if yesterday's game is any indication, they appear to be headed out of the slump.