DETROIT – It’s been a long time coming, but Daniel Cleary finally lit the red lamp at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday night.
Despite Cleary’s first goal in 24-games, the Red Wings suffered their sixth regulation loss at home this season, 2-1, to the visiting Florida Panthers.
“Yeah, it’s been trying, that’s for sure,” said Cleary of his offensive struggles this season. “Just have to try and stay positive, I mean, it’s hopefully something that I can build off.”
In his ninth season with the Wings, Cleary was recently demoted to the fourth line where he’s worked with winger Mikael Samuelsson and center Cory Emmerton, who was recalled from Grand Rapids this week. In 30 games this season, Cleary has produced two goals and five points with an even plus/minus rating.
The goal came at 4:06 of the first period on Cleary’s first shift of the game. He was the beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time, streaking down the wing where Panthers goalie Tim Thomas re-directed a rebound on an initial shot by Justin Abdelkader.
“That was a great play all the way from the start,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “I think it was Emmerton who got it in the middle of our zone and kicked it our wide to Abby. That’s something that we work on every day in practice. He was right where he’s supposed to be and skated all the way through.”
For Cleary, it was his first goal since his game-winner in a Columbus Day matinee at Boston on Oct. 14 and it ended a streak before he could establish a personal worst. His 23-game futility skid had tied a personal mark set in 2005-06, his first season with the Red Wings.
“It’s nice, it would have been better if we got the win but it’s good and hopefully a sign of more to come,” said Abdelkader, of Cleary’s goal. “Sometimes just seeing the puck go in can be a good start. Hopefully that’s the case for him where he sees it go in and it’s a sign of more to come.”
Saturday’s game was the Wings’ second in two days. They defeated the Devils, 3-1, in New Jersey on Friday. But Cleary wasn’t about to blame the schedule on the fact that the Red Wings just didn’t execute.
“It’s not our first back to back,” said Cleary, who last scored a goal at The Joe on April 1. “Mentally, you just have to get through it. You’ve got to talk to yourself and listen. We didn’t have our legs early but we were still in the game and that’s the frustrating part about it. We were right there. Just got to execute a little bit better and we got a couple of power plays late that were just not Red Wing-like. We were just missing passes and it didn’t look like we had a lot of sense of urgency.”
Without Pavel Datsyuk (concussion) and Henrik Zetterberg (lower back) guiding the power play, the Wings are 4-for-25 in the last seven games, and 1-for-15 with both stars out of the lineup at the same time. Detroit’s power play was 0-for-3 against the Panthers, and managed just four shots in six-minutes of ice-time with the man-advantage.
“There’s no question our power play hasn’t been as good since some of those key guys left,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I think that’s to be expected. But I still think we can execute coming in on the breakout a little bit better. That to me is where we could have been better.”
The Panthers scored once each in the second and third periods, directing 28 of their 37 shots at Red Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson in the last two frames. The loss is Gustavsson first in regulation this season, dropping his record to 8-1-1. The veteran backup is the first Red Wings’ goalie to begin a season with points in nine straight starts since Manny Legace (2000-01).
The Wings are now 5-6-6 at home, which Cleary said, “It’s terrible,” especially since the Wings have played so much better away from The Joe.
“We play a lot more patient, simple game on the road,” he said.
The Wings hit the road this week for two games in the Sunshine State with contests at Florida on Tuesday and Tampa Bay on Thursday.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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