There are bad shootout teams, and then there is whatever the Detroit Red Wings are this season. Hopeless would seem like an appropriate term.
Despite getting a spark from the return of Pavel Datsyuk and taking a 2-0 lead into the third period Tuesday night against the Panthers in Florida, the Red Wings found a way to get back into a depressingly familiar place. The hosts struck twice in the final 15 minutes, then won the shootout to send Detroit to a 3-2 defeat.
Datsyuk, who joked on Twitter that he was glad to be back from his fishing trip, set up Todd Bertuzzi‘s first period power play goal. And in what appeared to be a sign of some sort, he scored his 13th of the season with 13:13 left in the second period.
Yet perhaps mindful of his struggles this year in the shootout, Mike Babcock chose not to send Datsyuk out to test Tim Thomas after overtime. Tomas Tatar scored, but Daniel Alfredsson and Gustav Nyquist were both denied, allowing a backhand by Aleksander Barkov and a sneaky shot by Brad Boyes to hold up for the win.
The almost preordained ending spoiled a bright start for the Red Wings, who spent much of the opening 10 minutes on the power play and gave the Panthers fits with the top line of Datsyuk, Bertuzzi and Johan Franzen. Only Nick Bjugstad seemed to have his ‘A’ game for the hosts, so it was probably fitting that he wrecked the glass with a third period shot and knotted things up at 2-2 with 5:22 left in regulation.
Florida had the only two shots in overtime, but Niklas Kronwall had the best chance to win it with a shot that rang loudly off the crossbar. A lot of credit also goes to Thomas, who made a series of saves to keep his team in it down 2-1 and proved up to the challenge in the shootout.
The same certainly can’t be said for Howard or the Red Wings in general, now 1-8 on the season in games that go beyond 60 minutes. Some answers will have to be found, because the ongoing futility in closing out games is getting old.
The game was over when…
Detroit let a lead slip away again. Strong starts and weak finishes are getting to be a trademark of the 2013-14 squad, and that’s not something you want to have as your calling card. Injuries are a factor but can’t be used as an excuse.
The unsung Red Wings hero was…
Franzen deserves some consideration, as does Jakub Kindl for recovering with style to break up a good chance in the third period by Sean Bergenheim. But until this team learns how to either protect leads or lose in a normal, dignified fashion, this award is still suspended.