Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Wings 4, Blues 1

The Wings went into the game last night knowing they had to make a statement, that anything less than a commanding win wouldn't be an acceptable response to their embarrassing implosion on Saturday night. They had a Blues team gunning for them and the anti-Red Wing factions of the media licking their chops, looking for more reasons to spread doubt. They even risked the loss of some of their bandwagoners (gasp!). They did not disappoint. It's pretty safe to say that last night was one of the Wings best sustained efforts all season. Because the Blues came to play as well, it wasn't completely a Detroit-dominated game but it was close. Manny Legace was in net for the Wings and was a mere 58 seconds away from his second shutout in as many games but just like the Sharks game, he wasn't worked much. The credit for this win goes to the team. Other than the win, the best thing to happen last night was Steve Yzerman's 690th goal, which tied him with Mario Lemieux for 8th all-time. The goal came at 9:45 of the second period and was the result of a nice set up by Brendan Shanahan, who dished the puck to Niklas Kronwall in the slot to get things going. Kronwall's shot was blocked but Robert Lang and Yzerman were right there on the doorstep. Lang got it to The Captain, who got an easy goal at the side of the net from 13 feet out. True to form, it seemed to be just another goal for Yzerman, who didn't make a scene with wild celebration. The OLN guys didn't even mention what it meant until a few minutes later and it was in sort of an off-hand way, not at all like Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond would have. It's great to see The Captain move up the charts and at the rate he's been scoring lately, 700 doesn't seem completely out of the question for this season. The Blues came out of the gates flying and for about a minute it seemed like they would be setting the tempo, as the puck spent the first 50 seconds or so in the Detroit end. The Wings soon put those worries to rest, however. Kirk Maltby opened the scoring at 2:01 with just his fifth goal of the season. The Wings took the puck on a broad-front rush, all three forwards at once, with Dan Cleary carrying the puck. He crossed the blueline and passed it to Maltby, who waited a second before releasing a wrister from the right wing. I thought at first it had just gone off the crossbar but the goallight went on, indicating it had gone in, if just barely. 1-0 Wings. Henrik Zetterberg and Company followed up with a good, strong shift and the tone was set. Or it would have been had the Wings not gotten into penalty trouble. At 6:22, Andreas Lilja, who seems to be good for about a penalty a game if not much else, went to the box for holding. The kill was going well until 6:53, when Draper was called for holding himself, handing the Blues a nice long 5-on-3 opportunity. St. Louis got off a couple pretty good shots but after their initial pressure, they had trouble getting much going in the face of strong penalty killing by the Wings. Both teams looked good but the Wings were more dominant, for sure. The Blues had a few chances but nothing sustained and Legace was up to the task of stopping their shots. In the process of one such scoring opportunity, Nick Lidstrom was called for hooking. The Wings controlled most of the subsequent power play and when Mathieu Schneider went to the box for another hooking penalty at 17:24, they killed that one off easily as well. Late in the period, OLN had a close in shot of Robert Lang on a breakout with the puck. Just after he passed it, they cut away to a wider shot and the first thing I saw was the puck being intercepted by a Blues player and going the other way. No comment. With just 3.9 seconds left in the period, Mark Rycroft was sent off for hooking. The Wings won the deep zone faceoff and Cory Cross' shot rang off the post as the buzzer sounded. Shots for the period were 8-4 Wings. Detroit began the second on the power play but it wasn't very well orchestrated until later on and it resulted in a St. Louis kill. The Blues were looking pretty good but they couldn't score on yet another power play just four minutes into the period. The Wings' second power play, beginning at 7:25, was much better than the first. Both units were strong and created some good chances but Patrick Lalime was too good. Another kill for the Blues. Yzerman's goal came 20 seconds after the penalty had expired. It was followed less than a minute later by another goal, this time from Johan Franzen. Kirk Maltby kicked the puck free behind the net to Franzen, who took it out front. His initial shot was stopped by Lalime but he picked up his own rebound and scored off the backhand while cutting across the net. The goal put the Wings up 3-0 at 10:32 of the second period. At this point, the Blues called a time out but it didn't appear to have much effect. The Wings started to really swarm and St. Louis spent much of the remainder of the period on their heels. Mikael Samuelsson had a glorious scoring chance at about the 15 minute mark and it was followed up by scoring opportunities for Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom. Patrick Lalime was standing on his head while his defense played the pylon game and prevented a much more lopsided score, especially during this stretch. Lalime was given some relief when Lilja got his second penalty of the night, at 16:31. The Blues set it up and generated some good pressure but the power play was killed off relatively easily by the Wings. It was followed, however, by a St. Louis flurry down low late in the period, a storm which was fortunately weathered. Shots for the period were 13-5 Wings (feel bad for Lalime, yet?). It took the Wings less than 34 seconds to score in the third. The All-Sweden Line of Samuelsson, Zetterberg and Holmstrom took the puck on an 3-on-2 rush over the St. Louis blue line, Hank carrying on the left wing. Samuelsson went to the net and Holmstrom waited for the pass in the slot. He got it and waited for a second as the St. Louis defenseman cleared the way before roofing it backhand over the abandoned Lalime. 4-0 Wings. Officially, Jesse Boulerice was called for hooking at 3:08 but I think he actually committed the penalty about a minute or more earlier. The Wings were already controlling the puck in the St. Louis zone when Boulerice committed his sin but once the ref put his arm up and the Wings' brought on a sixth skater, it was as though the officials had skipped the formality of stopping play to escort Boulerice to the box. It was already a power play. They cycled the puck and absolutely dominated until it was finally touched up and the official power play began. They set up and got off a couple shots but nothing serious. The Blues took another penalty less than a minute into the first and the Wings got 1:11 of 5-on-3. Unfortunately, they couldn't take full advantage of it, as Lalime was strong once again. It was clear at this point that the Wings weren't about to let up. Although I can't say I didn't feel uncomfortable at how easily they took the lead and controlled the game as they had on Saturday, they didn't get as casual at any point during last night's game as they did on Saturday. The Blues may get the odd chance but 45 seconds out of any given minute was played with the Wings in control of the puck, it seemed. They were going for the kill. Yzerman and Lang went to the box five minutes apart in the second half of the period but the Wings were up to the task of killing the penalties off. Legace had to come up big just before Lang's penalty, though, and it was clear the Blues were weren't going to give up any sooner than the Wings let up. St. Louis came even more late in the game and Legace was strong. But they still scored, at 19:02. The goal came off a faceoff, with two Blues in front and just one Red Wing (Chelios). Legace was down and out, making it pretty easy for Petr Cajanek to ruin the shutout. The refs were intent on calling the game right to the end as well. They called Dennis Wideman for delay of game (they had to - he shot the puck out of the rink) at 19:27, giving the Wings one more chance to score. They got off a shot on their first try and forced another faceoff but after it was cleared, they let the clock run down. Final score 4-1 Red Wings. Shots for the period were 12-11 St. Louis and 32-21 Wings for the game. A good win for the Wings, after their loss Saturday brought doubters to the forefront. As others have pointed out, this game could very easily have been a loss under Dave Lewis but under Mike Babcock, there are no such worries. Ken Holland has got to be the best GM around and not just because of the gems he's found in Samuelsson, Franzen, Cleary and all. Getting Mike Babcock on the bench is looking like the best thing to happen to this team in years. Have to feel for the Blues and their fans. They weren't unimpressive last night and it makes me wonder just how different things could have been for that team this year, had things gone just a little better. They put up a respectable fight and will hopefully get their feet back on the ground next season. Maybe it wouldn't have been such a bad thing if Chris Osgood had been in net last night since now people can point to Manny and say Osgood's the reason they lost Saturday. Ah well. Who am I kidding? Osgood's critics will never shut up because it's so easy to become one. Next up, the Predators on Thursday at 8:00 ET. It's the makeup game for the homegame they lost as a result of the scheduling fallout after Jiri Fischer's heart incident. Also, this week's The Hockey News Player Poll asks "Excluding your team, who has the best chance to win the Stanley Cup?" The top three teams picked were Ottawa (30%), Detroit (30%) and Carolina (17%). I guess nine players haven't read all the media whining about the Wings' weak divisional schedule. Update (29. Mar, 12:24 PM ET): ESPN has the player-by-player results here. A lot of Eastern Conference guys picked the Wings but the picks mostly cross conference lines so I guess that's understandable.

1 Comments:

At 3/28/2006 09:00:00 PM, Anonymous Wingnut3023 said...

In my opinion, Manny Legace did a wonderful job in St. Louis (minus that goal). Though not challenged much, he was spectacular when he was. Had he just kept his toe on the post like he's supposed to, he'd have had that shutout. But overall, he played wonderfully. While that makes me happy (we need our goaltender to be great in the playoffs, even though he won't have to beat Patrick Roy), I feel for Ozzie. But I won't go into that.
Lalime, while great at times, showed brief interludes of why he was sent to the minors earlier in the season. There were moments in the game when I wasn't sure he knew where he was. He looked lost. At other times, he made huge saves that nearly kept his team in it. If he could get some consistency in his game (and some defense) he could become once again what he was in Ottawa.
Now for the Blues. It saddens me greatly how that team has imploded this season. I loved that rivalry, and the inevitable playoff round. To have them fall so far so fast is just wrong. I think what really hit them was the loss of Pronger. He'd been the heart and soul of that team for as long as I can remember. With him gone, it appears that they didn't know what to do. They need to get some good, veteran leadership for their young guys. I have little doubt that they won't be down for long.
As for the Wings, the win meant a lot. Sure, it didn't really affect the playoff race, but it affected our confidence level. And it made a statement to the league that we are going to play the rest of the season. We aren't slowing down. If anything, we're raising the tempo and expectations as the playoffs approach. This will make us a scary team in the playoffs, especially with Stevie Y. playing at his current level. Are we going to win the President's Trophy? Who cares? Only Lord Stanley's Cup matters. Are we going to win that? With Babs behind the bench and the Euro twins leading the way, we have a good shot. Let's just keep our fingers crossed, shall we?

 

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