Thursday, November 17, 2005

Wings 1, Flames 3

The Wings dropped their second road game in a row, losing to the Flames 3-1 tonight at the Saddledome. Out of the gate, Detroit seemed to have little trouble sticking with Calgary but as the game wore on, they fell behind and did not play a complete game against a team they are very likely to see in the playoffs at some point.

Manny Legace made the start for the Wings and was sharp when needed but not so much as to steal a game for the team.

I did not come away from this game with a good feeling.

First Period

Mike Babcock started the reunited Maltby-Draper-Yzerman line but it was an uneventful first shift.

Robert Lang opened the scoring at 1:20 after Brendan Shanahan stole the puck from Andrew Ference just inside the Calgary blueline. Lang picked it up and broke in on Miikka Kiprusoff all alone. He kept his head up and put the puck between Kiprusoff's legs to make it 1-0 Wings. I must admit, I didn't think Lang would score on the play. Kiprusoff has attained an almost unbeatable status in my mind, based on his performance in the 2003-2004 playoffs and there's also Lang's blown penalty shot a few games back. So, it was a pleasant surprise to see Kiprusoff be mortal. For a second.

After the Wings' goal, the pace quickened and both teams began skating hard. The Wings had good hustle and were keeping up with the younger team.

Darren McCarty made his presence known early with a big hit on Chris Chelios behind the Wings' net at 4:10. Calgary hits were a common thread throughout the game, by the way. They were definitely the more physical team tonight.

Though the Wings were showing hustle, they didn't seem to have a very good offensive strategy. Instead of driving to the net, they took shots from a distance and didn't go after rebounds with much effort. With a goalie as good as Kiprusoff, I don't know what they were thinking. It's not very easy to score on him with the first shot.

We first noticed Manny Legace at about 7:37, when he was forced to make a save on Jerome Iginla from a fairly safe distance.

A combination of Calgary physical play and Detroit sloppy passing led to the Flames' first goal of the night. Mathieu Schneider fumbled the puck a bit at the offensive blueline but ended up keeping it in on sort of a fluke play. It ended up on Williams' stick and pressure from a couple Flames players caused him to attempt to center it. It was intercepted by Daymond Langkow, who sent it up ice to a streaking Tony Amonte at the far end of the blueline. Amonte had Legace all to himself and put it in five-hole to tie the game up at one at 11:01.

Pavel Datsyuk had some room on a break along the near side boards with about 7:22 left but shot it off too early, in my opinion. I thought he could have gotten in closer before letting loose but I suppose it's a good thing that he is shooting more now.

At 13:55, the Wings got their first power play of the night. They got a good initial setup, with Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom, Nick Lidstrom and Jason Williams controlling the puck but it was cleared after they got two shots off. The second unit had some good chances, including what could be called a "glorious chance" for Steve Yzerman in the slot, but were not able to get the puck past Kiprusoff.

Following the power play, there was more up and down play, with the Wings getting more of the chances. The Flames did come very close to taking the lead at about 17:20, when Legace got stuck behind the net but the Wings skaters were able to keep the puck away from the Flames and preserve the tie.

That chance must have rejuvenated the Flames because they started to come on at the end of the period. Shots were 9-4 Wings.

Second Period

The Flames came out of the gates with jump, continuing the pace they had set in the last minutes of the first.

The Wings got their first penalty of the game just 45 seconds into the period but they were able to kill of the ensuing Calgary power play, though the second half was a little tense. Manny was sharp here as the Flames came on, capitalizing on Red Wing sloppiness.

At about 6:00, the Flames got a good forecheck going. It was so good, in fact, that the Wings vaunted defensive corps could not move the puck out of the zone and the Flames got the grinding battle they wanted along the boards after Detroit collapsed to the end boards. This resulted directly in a penalty, as Jiri Fischer cross checked Amonte (I think, I didn't write the name down), who, seeing Fischer coming, turned his back. The FSN color commentator for the night and former Wings defenseman, Larry Murphy, spoke out against Amonte, saying that was the kind of play he particularly hated forwards for, because it makes it very difficult for defensemen to do their job effectively without getting a penalty. Anyway, the Wings killed off the penalty but the Calgary pressure continued even after that and the Wings exacerbated it by not getting the puck out of the zone, despite a number of chances to do so.

One of the more impressive stretches of play for any Red Wing the entire night was Henrik Zetterberg's shift that ended with about 9 minutes left. He shadowed Iginla the whole time and was able to disrupt the Calgary star's attempts at wrecking havoc in the Wings' zone. While Datsyuk's defensive game has improved by leaps and bounds, Hank's built-in ability in his own zone is what makes him much more valuable, in my opinion. His offensive skills are very good as well and he will be as complete a package as you can get as he matures.

Despite the impressiveness of that shift by Zetterberg, it was pretty clear that the Wings were just barely hanging on at this point. The initiative certainly did not lie with them at this stage of the game.

Jiri Fischer made a nice open ice hit on Shean Donovan at 12:51. It won FSN's Hit of the Game but it reminded me of Derian Hatcher's hit on Lombardi in Detroit's final game in the 2003-2004 playoffs (15:58 of the first). Jiri gave Donovan a healthy dose of elbow on the play. I wouldn't be too surprised if the League were to review the play and hand Fischer some kind of punishment, despite the fact that Donovan was not injured.

The Wings got another power play at 13:02 but they really only got anything going on their first attempt. Darren McCarty had a nice short-handed chance a 2-on-1 opportunity in which he took the shot instead of passing it. Manny made the save off the near-side wing but Shanahan went to the box for hooking and the teams went to four a side for 15 seconds.

After their penalty expired, the Flames went on the power play. Iginla took the puck in immediately but a nice defensive play by Datsyuk diminished any worries about that. That feeling was short lived, however, as the Flames demonstrated just how dangerous they can be on the power play. Only Legace's sharpness kept Calgary from scoring until the puck was cleared. Maltby made a couple nice plays in the offensive zone to delay the puck getting back up ice but that couldn't keep the Flames from scoring again at 16:41, with just 5 seconds remaining on the man-advantage. There was sort of a flurry around the net and Manny made the initial save but Kobasew came in and knocked the puck out of Legace's glove and into the net. Manny tried to protest that he had had possession but there was no whistle and the goal stood. 2-1 Flames.

Just a couple minutes later, Manny demonstrated his quickness again by making a glove save on a Donovan tip just in front of the net.

With about a minute and half left, Jordan Leopold took a puck to the face off Zetterberg's stick and had to leave the ice for the dressing room. Initially, everyone thought the Wings had gotten a high sticking penalty and because blood was drawn on the play, it appeared they would be short handed for four minutes. However, that mistake was soon straightened out and the Wings didn't have to face that situation.

Instead, they went on the power play themselves, just a few seconds later. They couldn't get anything going, however, despite three distinct attempts at setting up and the period ended with 50 seconds remaining on the power play.

Shots were 16-6 Flames.

Third Period

The power play carried over from the second period but you wouldn't have known it from the events on the ice. The Flames killed off the remainder easily.

About a minute and a half in, Pavel's line again generated good pressure. Pavel himself got off a good quick shot at about 1:35 from 30 feet out but Kiprusoff was awake and made the save. He and his linemates continued to get chances but the Flames goalie was too good.

Darren McCarty scored his first goal on the Wings at 2:03 and put the Flames up by two. Mac scored it from the back/side of the net and just barely got it stuffed between Legace's legs as Manny was getting set at the post. Not the greatest goal for Legace to give up, really. He needs to get to the post a little quicker. Darren was understandably excited to score against his old team and while I hope he scores many more goals, I hope that's the last he scores on the Wings. You've had your fun, Mac. No more, please.

The Wings went on the attack after that but were unable to get anything sustained going, which is what they needed to do.

Three positives: killing off the Samuelsson penalty five minutes into the period, Pavel's line and pressure generated by it around the 8:30 mark and two great saves made by Legace on Iginla and Kobasew from close in about 10 seconds apart in with under 11 minutes remaining.

The team just didn't seem to have much of a sense of urgency as the period wound down and though they didn't noticeably give up, their lack of effort seemed to say they had written off the game. Mike Babcock tried switching up the lines, putting Samuelsson with Datsyuk and Zetterberg (why he broke up the best line of the night, I don't know) but it didn't accomplish much of anything.

Shots on the period were 8-7 Flames and 28-22 Flames for the game.


The Flames won 8 in a row for the first time in 13 years ... Jason Woolley made his return and looked smooth out there with the puck. He disapeared after the first period though. UPDATE: The papers say he reinjured his groin. ... The Wings can now get 2 of a possible 6 points from this West Coast trip with a win tomorrow in Edmonton. Can't say I'm too optimistic ...

After watching that game, I'm more inclined to agree with Tom Benjamin's theory that the Flames are the team to beat in the west. Beyond that, I'd say the Northwest Division is the division to beat (and the Northeast Division in the East, too. Something about the north and hockey, you know). Any western team wanting to get to the Finals will likely have to go through at least two teams from the NW division and I can't say I'm looking forward to watching the Wings attempt that. Still, that is a long way off and they will certainly work on the necessary things to be in a better position to win in those situations.

Though they haven't really shown it yet, they can beat NW teams individually. It's the series format that has me worried. Oh well. We'll worry more about that as April approaches. Lots of hockey between now and then.


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