ST. LOUIS – The Red Wings had plenty of power play chances Tuesday. But the Blues’ penalty-kill, which started the night ranked 27th in the league, came to life before a sold-out Scottrade Center.
The Blues blocked 20 shots, held the Wings scoreless on six power plays, and got goals from Mike D’Agostini and Alexander Steen to claim a 2-1 win over their Central Division rivals.
The Wings were in the game right until the final horn, but by not taking advantage of power play opportunities, including a 5-minute man-advantage in the first period, they played into the Blues’ hands.
“We talked about it before the game, the importance of having a good power play and penalty-kill, and didn’t get it done,” forward Danny Cleary said. “When we did get set-up we tried to shoot it. We had a hard time sustaining full pressure for more than 25-seconds. A lot of times it was an entry, maybe a shot and they got it out quite often.”
Detroit managed to silence the Blues’ fans when they took a 1-0 lead early in the first period. Justin Abdelkader did a nice job of protecting the puck as he whirled around the back of the Blues’ net then slipped a pass out front to Drew Miller, who stuffed it underneath goalie Brian Elliott for the Wings’ lead.
For Elliott, who made 21 saves on 22 shots – the Wings' lowest total of the season – Tuesday’s win was his first against the Wings in three career games.
Moments after Miller’s goal, Wings goalie Jimmy Howard made a terrific save that preserved Detroit’s one-goal edge when he stopped Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, who slipped in alone on the right wing for a solid scoring chance with 9:14 left in the first period.
But St. Louis eventually solved Howard, and with Jonathan Ericsson off for interfering with Jason Arnott, the Blues went to work tying the score at 1-1 when D’Agostini tallied just 12-seconds into their first power play of the game.
The Wings dodged a potentially devastating blow to their roster when Niklas Kronwall needed help to get off the ice following a nasty first-period hit that left the veteran defenseman momentarily sprawled on the ice.
Kronwall was injured as he chased down a loose puck along the half wall to the right of Howard. As he approached the half wall – about five-feet shy of it – Blues forward Chris Stewart quickly pursued from behind and pushed Kronwall head-first into the boards. He needed helped off the ice by Wings trainer Piet Van Zant, and did not return for the remainder of the period.
“I think I got lucky there,” Kronwall said. “I think it could have ended a lot worse.”
Stewart received a 5-minute major for checking from behind and a game-misconduct, and more than likely an automatic review from the league’s office of players’ safety.
Asked if he thought Stewart’s hit was a dirty one, Kronwall said, “I haven’t seen the replay, so I can’t really say too much. But it felt like he was coming from an angle from behind.”
As luck had it, Kronwall was back on the ice at the start of the second period, and he finished the game, mainly because he was able to turn his head before impacting the wall with his shoulder absorbing most of the hit.
“They brought me in there just in case, to do all the testing,” Kronwall said. “When you take a hard hit, you feel it’s a good impact, but I was fine.”
The Wings were disappointed in Tuesday’s effort, especially their lackluster second-period performance with many of them calling it the team’s worst 20-minute effort of the season.
“Our performance tonight was unacceptable,” Kronwall said. “We’re losing way too many battles, made too many mistakes. Our power play wasn’t good enough. We had some chances. We just have to bear down.”
The Blues took a 2-1 lead in the second, capitalizing on a mistake when Johan Franzen shoveled a clearing attempt from the half wall into the middle of the rink. The attempt was intercepted inside the blue line by Steen, who skated to the top of the left circle and fired a hard wrist shot that glanced off of Howard’s blocker and into the net at 10:16 of the period.
“He’s got a hell of a shot on him. He zipped it,” said Howard, who made 35 saves.
With the Blues directing 19 shots at the Wings’ net in the second, Howard was called upon to make several outstanding saves that kept the Wings’ deficit at one-goal. He came up particularly big on Arnott, whom he stopped on a pair of successive shots from the doorstep of the Wings’ crease.
Then the Blues failed to build on their lead when defenseman Roman Polak stopped a sure goal by a Blues’ teammate when the puck struck his skate and stayed out of the open side of the Wings’ net. A few seconds later, Polak, perhaps out of frustration, was whistled for holding the Wings’ Miller in the neutral zone at 17:04.
Not knowing how Kronwall will feel in Wednesday, the Wings, as a precaution, elected to keep rookie defenseman Brendan Smith on the four-game trip, which now heads to California for games in San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim.
Smith, who is still looking to make his NHL debut, was recalled to serve the last of an eight-game league suspension, which he did with Tuesday’s game in St. Louis.