For the second straight game, the talking point in a Detroit Red Wings loss is going to be a bad call — or in this case, a non-call — that went against them. But make no mistake, much of the damage done in a critical loss to the Montreal Canadiens Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena was self-inflicted by the hosts.
The Red Wings started slow and helped gift the Habs several goals. That meant that even though Max Pacioretty scored the visitors’ fourth goal in what ended up a 5-4 Montreal victory on a play that was blatantly offsides, the truth is that Mike Babcock’s team didn’t really deserve to win anyway.
Pacioretty’s goal bounced in off Niklas Kronwall, who had a night he’ll likely want to forget, to break a 3-3 tie after Tomas Tatar tallied twice in the first 4:30 of the final period to give the Red Wings a fighting chance. That disappeared when Tomas Vanek used a perfect deflection of an Andrei Markov point shot for the eventual game-winner with 8:45 left.
Johan Franzen broke his recent goal-scoring slump just 21 seconds later to pull Detroit back to within a goal, taking a nice feed from Gustav Nyquist and finding himself with plenty of time to beat Carey Price. But a late holding call on Brendan Smith made a tying score more difficult, and only a brief scramble in front of Price materialized with Jimmy Howard pulled in the final minute.
Early on, it didn’t look like the Red Wings would even have a chance for points. Tomas Plekanec opened the scoring 5:14 in, then added another goal nine minutes later after a horrendous pass between Brendan Smith and Kronwall in the Detroit zone.
Riley Sheahan got the home team back into it with his sixth of the season 1:28 after the first break, with Luke Glendening turning playmaker after a P.K. Subban turnover. But even after a strong penalty kill that included 29 seconds spent two men down and a phenomenal Howard stop on Vanek, the Habs cashed in again before the end of the second. Kronwall was involved again, getting knocked off the puck near the Detroit end and allowing Vanek to find David Desharnais for his 14th goal of the season.
The Kid Line was strong all night, even after swapping Nyquist for Tomas Jurco, who began the game on the top line with Franzen and David Legwand. Howard’s stats weren’t great (24 saves on 29 shots), but he can’t bear much of the blame on a night when the team in front of him didn’t play a strong or complete game.
And though none of the teams vying with the Red Wings for the wild card spots was in action on Thursday, the loss still hurts because it threw away the game in hand that Detroit held on several of them. It goes without saying that every game from here on out is as important as any regular season game since … well, last year at this time, beginning with a visit to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
Yes, it would be nice if the Red Wings would have the calls go their way, but it would be even better if the team played well enough that some bad breaks didn’t matter.
The game was over when …
The Habs scored their fifth goal. Even after the controversial Pacioretty tally, the Red Wings had plenty of time to tie things up. Vanek’s game-winner came on a clean faceoff win, a point-to-point pass and a fairly simple deflection that gave Howard no chance. Way too easy with the stakes so high.
The unsung Red Wings hero was …
Didn’t it seem like Glendening was the one Red Wing playing well even when everyone else besides the Kid Line was struggling? He seemed like he was everywhere for a stretch, killing penalties, showing unusual moxie with the puck, and even trying to beat price with a spin-o-rama move while shorthanded. It would be nice to see him score his first NHL goal since he works so hard.