DETROIT – Momentum often swings like a pendulum in sports, as it did on the Red Wings Thursday night.
Detroit did plenty of good in trying to shake a five-game winless streak. However, the Calgary Flames capitalized on a couple home team miscues and handed the Wings a 4-1 defeat, stretching their early-season streak to six straight games.
Despite out-shooting (29-22) and out-hitting (23-15) the Flames, the Wings couldn’t get pucks past goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, who made 28 saves in earning his fifth win of the season.
The last time the Wings experienced a six-game winless streak was February 2008, when they had a 0-5-1 record, just like their current streak.
“Desperation is measured in results at the end. That’s the bottom line,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I don't think you can go through any of these games and say we're getting outplayed. But we're not winning.”
A lack of scoring has clearly frustrated the Wings (5-5-1), who have been held to six goals in the last six games.
“Guys are trying. You can’t say that guys aren’t trying,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Guys are trying and when pucks aren’t going your way sometimes you use the cliché, ‘You’re squeezing your stick.’ But you have to continue to shoot the puck by getting chances.”
Again the Wings started a game with more fire than the opposition, yet they still went to the first intermission down 1-0. The opening 5-7 minutes belonged to the Wings, who created consistent pressure in the Flames’ zone, and had two solid chances to take an early lead.
Their first opportunity came with 13:46 left in the period when Tomas Holmstrom intercepted a neutral zone pass and skated into the Flames’ zone, setting up Drew Miller on the doorstep. But the Wings’ forward was denied by Kiprusoff, who made a smothering save next to the right post.
Niklas Kronwall had a quality chance when he pinched into the lower right circle, but his backhand shot was knocked aside by the Flames’ goalie.
The game’s first power-play went to the Wings when defenseman Cory Sarich hooked Pavel Datsyuk behind the Flames’ net at 7:52. The Wings managed two shots on the man-advantage, but never really had a quality scoring chance on the 5-on-4.
The Flames went through the first half of the period with only one shot to their credit. But they doubled their SOGs when Jarome Iginla tipped a point shot from Olli Jokinen on the Flames’ first power-play opportunity.
For the second half of the period, the Flames spent much of the time in the Wings’ zone. Calgary took a 1-0 lead on its fourth shot of the period when Lee Stempniak whirled and fired a sweeping shot from along the goal line to the right of Jimmy Howard. It appeared that the Wings’ goalie had position against the post, but the puck seemed to hit his blocker before scooting into the net at 15:52.
Although they held an 8-5 advantage in shots, a large portion of the period was a frustrating one for the Wings from a puck-possession standpoint. The Wings lost 12-of-16 face-offs in the period.
For the most part, the pace of the game picked-up. However, six Wings forwards finished the period without a single shot in the first 40-minutes, including the team’s biggest guns – Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen.
“They were pretty much clogging up the middle,” Zetterberg said. “We have to find a way to get the pucks to the front of the net, from the sides a little bit more. They were blocking a lot of shots, which made it tough too. But you have to get the pucks in front of the net to be able to score.
“They were good at being in the way. They got the lead and played on that. We have to be better at getting the pucks to the net to get second chances, to get some ugly goals. It’s not happening right now.”
But it happened for the Flames, whose big gun, Iginla, gave his team a 2-0 lead on their second power-play of the night. With Jiri Hudler in the penalty box for tripping Sarich, the Flames took advantage of the added ice space, setting up Iginla’s one-timer from the left face-off dot that beat Howard.
A few minutes later, Hudler indirectly helped the Wings cut their deficit when he sustained facial cuts from a hit by Flames defenseman Scott Hannan, who only received a two-minute minor for holding.
The play started when Hudler chased a loose puck deep in the Flames’ zone. He engaged with Hannan near the bottom of the right circle, and as the players’ momentum carried the pair toward the end boards behind the Flames’ net, Hannah used his leverage to shiver the Wings’ forward face-first into the boards.
The Wings scored on the ensuing power-play when Danny Cleary scored his first of the season, on a lucky bounce in front of the net, at 8:11. Kronwall lifted a shot from the right of the net that missed Kiprusoff, but ricocheted into the back of the net off of Cleary’s midsection.
Overall, the Wings fared much been in the period than they did in the first 20-minutes. Detroit held advantages in shots (11-5) and also won 14-of-21 draws.
The final frame began with the Wings needing to kill the final 1:49 of Kronwall’s hooking penalty, which they did successfully. Other good news was that Hudler returned to the game after taking stitches to close facial wounds.
The Wings turned up the heat in the Flames’ end, but Kiprusoff made several fine stops on Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Hudler during one shift.
The Wings had another change to tie the score when Franzen, Zetterberg and Cleary did a fine job of cycling the puck low in the offensive zone. But again, Kirpusoff made a sprawling save on Cleary that preserved the Flames’ one-goal lead.
But as luck would have it, the Flames took a 3-1 lead on their next trip up the ice. Iginla scored his second of the night from nearly the identical spot on the ice as his first tally. Iginla’s fourth goal of the season was made possible when Flames forward Curtis Glencross jumped on a turnover and quickly dished a cross-ice pass to his linemate, who buried a one-timer to Howard’s short-side.
“We played real good at the start of the third until we turned over that puck coming out of our zone. It was a gift. Nothing Howie could do about that,” Babcock said. “I didn't think we were very good after that. Obviously a disappointing game for us. We thought we did some good things, we held them to 10 shots through two periods. In the end we didn't get the win.”
Jokinen finished the scoring with a power-play goal into an empty net.
Something the Wings know they can’t afford to do is succumb to the temptation of doubt.
“When you keep losing and losing and losing, you’re making changes, changes, changes,” Zetterberg said. “Instead of keeping it simple and believing in yourself and doing what you’ve been doing for all of these years, it’s easy to starting doubting yourself and doing a little bit too much.”
Lidstrom agreed, saying, “You have to continue to talk about it. Talk about the things that we have to do. Talk about the things that we’ve done well, but also talk about the things that we have to correct to be better.”