DETROIT – From a statistical point-of-view, the Red Wings did everything that a team can do to win Friday night. They had more shots and more hits, and dominated the face-off circle.
Yet the Wings lost the most meaningful stat of them all to San Jose – goals. Despite out-shooting the Sharks, 32-30, and winning 63 percent of the face-offs, the Wings’ losing streak was extended to three straight games when they dropped a 4-2 decision at Joe Louis Arena.
“I thought we did a great job out there tonight,” said goalie Jimmy Howard, who stopped 26 of 29 shots that he faced. “We did a lot of good things. They just capitalized once more than we did. We just have to get right back on the horse.
“I thought both teams played well. They just happened to find a way.”
From the opening face-off, the first few minutes were played at a very high tempo by both of these Western Conference rivals.
But it wasn’t long before the Sharks gained the upper hand when Nicklas Lidstrom was whistled for hooking Andrew Murray. Lidstrom had little choice but to hook the Sharks’ center, who had an unimpeded path to a loose puck, which was shot from long-distance off the end-boards behind the Wings’ net.
The Sharks, who lead the league in shots on goal, continued their lethal sharp-shooting ways by firing at will on Howard on their first power-play of the period. But Howard and the Wings’ defense came up big, preventing the visitors from taking an early lead.
Howard made three saves during the power-play, including a point-blank stop on Martin Havlat. And moments later, Brad Stuart made a remarkable diving block, stopping a sure goal by Ryane Clowe.
“I thought on that first penalty-kill they had some good chances when we had a chance to get the puck out twice, and we didn’t,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Usually you’re digging those out of the back of your net, so (Howard) was sharp.”
San Jose was clearly in command until the Wings’ top forward line began to dominate and create several great scoring opportunities. Through the first seven games of the season, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datysuk and Danny Cleary have combined on just three goals.
Outshot to start the game, 7-1, the Wings continued to press, collecting the next six unanswered shots, capped by Zetterberg’s first goal in six games. The goal came on a designed play by Lidstrom, who purposely fired a point-shot wide of the net. The puck caromed off the end-boards to the left of the net, and came out perfectly to the right side where Zetterberg waited to wrist a shot into an open net at 12:20.
It was the fifth time this season that the Wings have struck first on the scoreboard. They’re now 4-1-0 when scoring first.
Detroit finished the frame with an 11-7 edge in shots.
This was the period that made all of the difference, as the Sharks scored three times on 10 shots. And it didn’t take San Jose long to take advantage of a power-play when Cleary tripped Joe Pavelski just 25-seconds into the period.
San Jose tied the score when Havlat setup Clowe, who beat Howard on the short side with a shot from the lower left circle at 2:10. It was the Sharks’ first road power-play goal of the season, and their first in four games, ending a 0-for-13 drought.
San Jose took a 2-1 lead when Patrick Marleau won a footrace to the front of the Wings’ net. The Sharks’ forward charged over the Wings’ blue line and beat Ian White to a loose puck. As the two battled for possession, Marleau managed to get a shot off, but the blade of White’s stick simultaneously struck Marleau’s stick, which send the puck spiraling in the air, over Howard’s left shoulder, and into the top of the net.
“It just chipped out to the neutral zone and I had a play on the puck,” White said. “I was ahead of Marleau and took a swipe at it, bounced over my stick and it turned into a footrace. Then I tried to get a stick on the puck and ended up tipping it upstairs in our own net.”
With Havlat in the penalty box for cross-checking, the Wings evened the score at 2-2 when Tomas Holmstrom scored his first goal of the season. Doing what he does best, Holmstrom was positioned in front of the Sharks’ net when he tipped Datsyuk’s shot from the right point beyond goalie Antii Niemi at 14:44. Holmstrom now has 113 power-play goals in his 18 NHL seasons. Lidstrom also had an assist.
However, the Sharks’ top line made its presence felt when captain Joe Thornton converted a breakaway into a 3-2 edge for San Jose. With the Wings’ defense caught in the Sharks’ zone, Pavelski threaded a perfect cross-ice pass to Thornton, who moved in alone from the blue line, and whipped a shot that beat Howard through the pads.
“I pinched in and no one really had my spot … and Thornton read it well, and then took off early,” Lidstrom said. “It happened in the second period, so we still had a full period to play in the third. But I thought they played well with clogging up the neutral zone and not letting us get a whole lot of chances.”
Through two periods, the Wings controlled the puck-possession, winning 24-of-37 face-offs, lead by Zetterberg, who won all eight of his draws through 40-minutes.
The Sharks went to work on the power-play early when Jiri Hudler went to the box for holding at 2:09. Fortunately, the Wings managed to kill off the man-advantage.
Three-minutes later, the Wings went on their fourth power-play when Niemi tripped Johan Franzen, preventing the Wings’ power forward from getting to a loose puck in front of the Sharks’ net. But the Wings came up empty when Niemi stopped Detroit’s best chance to tie the score – a save on Lidstrom’s 58-foot shot from the right point.
The Wings continued to buzz the offensive zone, but the Sharks combated it by packing the passing and shooting lanes, befuddling the Wings’ efforts. In all, 11 different Sharks had at least one blocked shot, including defensemen Douglas Murray, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns, who had three each.
“They really didn’t put a forecheck on us at all,” Lidstrom said. “They were backing up, and we had to beat them through the neutral zone. I thought we did at times get pucks behind them, but they are playing well in their own zone. We have to find ways to get to those second chances, because (Niemi) is usually making those saves.”
With 90-seconds left, Howard vacated the crease for a sixth attacked. But moments later, Thornton, the London, Ontario, native scored in an empty net.
“It was a good game. Sometimes you can fool yourself in these games though. The opposition gets you prepared for these games. You don’t have to get yourself prepared. But being a pro is getting prepared every night so you have energy to play every night. So that’s a challenge for us tomorrow.”