A strong showing from both teams at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday night proved for extremely entertaining hockey. Sadly, the outcome wasn’t nearly as fun as the game – the Coyotes ended up leaving Detroit with a 4-2 win.
Detroit came out of the gate a little rusty, having been out of game action since Saturday’s debacle against Boston. They looked slow and disoriented, and Phoenix took advantage, winning most of the loose puck battles and countering the Red Wings’ sloppy system execution by staying true to their own. It took them only 2:21 to get on the board from a Derek Morris slapshot right off a face-off, an area in which Detroit struggled all game. The goal seemed to serve as a wake-up call, however, as the Wings’ effort through the rest of the period was much better and more consistent. The top line in particular was firing at all cylinders, and Phoenix had trouble controlling them all game.
It would take until the second period for Detroit to even the score when Joakim Andersson knocked in a rebound off a strong shot from Jakub Kindl. Andersson did a great job of lifting the puck over Mike Smith’s shoulder despite being in so close to the crease; I’m starting to think he could have a little more untapped offensive upside than he showed in his rookie season. Kindl also made a great play to protect the puck crossing over the blue line – it looks so far like last season wasn’t a fluke after all.
Just fifty-three seconds later, the Wings took the lead off a great slapshot from Jonathon Ericsson with Abdelkader screening in the crease. The play was set up from a solid forecheck by Henrik Zetterberg, who caused the Phoenix defender to clear the puck from behind the net right on to Ericsson’s stick, setting him up for a perfect shooting lane from the right point. The Coyotes responded just 1:04 later, when a missed coverage assignment allowed Mikkel Boedker to knock a rebound into an essentially open net. Just like the last goal against, Detroit seemed sparked by the sight of the puck in their own net, and the offense behaved like a well oiled machine for the rest of the period. Mike Smith played impeccably, and had to make a couple of phenomenal saves on Abdelkader and Datsyuk. Phoenix pushed just as hard, but Detroit’s defense were able to keep most of the scoring chances to bad areas.
For much of the third period neither team gave an inch. It took until less than five minutes remained for a team to get on the board, when Phoenix young gun Mark Stone rifled a huge shot past Jimmy Howard right as a tripping call to Stephen Weiss expired. Despite a last strong effort in which Babcock pulled Jimmy Howard, Detroit was not able to answer – the final goal was scored when Daniel Alfredsson mishandled a puck at the Phoenix blue line and lost a race for it back to Boedker, who fed Vermette in front of the crease for an easy empty net goal.
When all is said and done, the group didn’t perform too badly tonight. However, this is the second straight game where they’ve allowed four goals, and when you’re playing a strong defensive team like Phoenix, you won’t be able to win games 5-4. I’ll bet Babcock stresses team defense in practice tomorrow before Saturdays game against Philadelphia.
A few notes:
- I thought Quincey, who is usually one of my favorite whipping boys, played a fantastic game. He stayed in position all night and made a couple of great defensive plays, including what could have been a game-saving play if…well, they won.
- Why is Samuelsson in over Tatar? WHY? WHY?
- Here’s guessing Mrazek gets the start on Saturday. Howard hasn’t looked bad at any point this season, but 8 goals in two games is ugly no matter how you look at it.
- Thank god we picked up Dekeyser. The kid looks mature beyond his years on the blue line, and I think his skill as a puck mover will translate into more offense than most analysts seem to believe.
I think it’s worth noting that this game was inches from going in the opposite direction thanks to a ringer off the crossbar by Hank.
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