Injured players like Darren Helm and Daniel Alfredsson have made their way back to the Detroit Red Wings lineup. Even worse for the Montreal Canadiens and the rest of the teams fighting for the playoffs in the East, the players that have held down the fort in the meantime are really starting to click.
Just like on Wednesday night against Chicago, Detroit hardly looked the part of an undermanned team while hosting a feisty Montreal squad on Friday at Joe Louis Arena. The result was another two points, as Henrik Zetterberg put the team ahead in the first period and the Red Wings never trailed en route to a 4-1 victory.
Zetterberg’s team-leading 16th goal of the season came three seconds before a 5-on-3 power play expired. The captain’s one-timer from the high slot beat Carey Price cleanly thanks to a solid screen by Dan Cleary.
Both Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan missed golden opportunities to pad the lead in the second period. But Shehan atoned with a sizzling goal that turned out to be the game winner, skating in from the neutral zone and rifling a shot that flew past Price high on the glove side at the 11:48 mark.
Brendan Gallagher got one back for the visitors on the power play about a minute later, but Niklas Kronwall seized on a fortunate bounce off a Montreal stick that found him alone in the slot. His sixth goal of the campaign came with 3:31 left before the second break.
The dagger came late in the third when Nyquist converted a tic-tac-toe passing play with Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader for his second tally in as many games. Jonas Gustavsson made 30 stops on 31 shots and was named the game’s first star.
In the absence of Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and a host of others, Zetterberg has statistically taken the team on his back. His two-point night on Friday gave him eight points in his last four games and 11 in 10 games in 2014.
Yet it’s the play of younger players like Sheahan and his linemates, the two Tomases (Tatar and Jurco), plus seemingly hungry veterans like Helm and Patrick Eaves that has to be most encouraging to Mike Babcock. This may not be the Red Wings team he expected to have at the start of the season, and it’s taken its fair share of lumps, but it might be rounding into form at a critical time (unless the Olympic break takes the wind out of its sails).
And oh yeah, Datsyuk and the others will be back at some point.
The game was over when…
The Red Wings kept drawing penalties and mostly kept their heads about them during some chippy play. The Habs had their share of borderline plays, but they were the ones in the box after Gallagher’s power play goal. That meant they got few chances to get it back to a one-goal game, and the Monster shut the door on the ones they did get.
The unsung Red Wings hero was…