These Detroit Red Wings are supposed to be a depleted bunch, compared to last year. Their roster is less filled with recognizable names than curiousities. Who the heck is Tomas Tatar? Brian Lashoff? Cory Emmerton? Maybe we on the West coast don’t see the same news those on the East do, and I’ve just named an All-Star or first-rounder, but these players are not the Wings of old.
You know what? In some measure it doesn’t seem to matter. The Kings were ascending when the Wings came to town for a very unusual Wednesday game, 7pm no less. They had won four straight and six of seven, and they made Anaheim look like much less a team than they are on Monday evening. But the Wings walked into Staples Center, took the puck away from the home team, and didn’t give it back for a period and a half.
It wasn’t until about the eight minute mark in period two that the Kings had much of a sniff, and that only when they had a long two-man advantage.
Before that, it was all Red Wings, and they were standing at nine shots to one around the middle of period one, then they ran it to 11-1 and the score to 1-0. It came on a shot out of the corner from Kyle Quincey. The puck was high, and it bounced out of Jonathan Bernier’s glove and up high, where he and the defenseman standing near him, Voynov, lost it. It looped up in the air and Voynov swung at it, missed, and saw it drop behind his goalie.
The goaltender said after, “I’m not even sure what it hit. My back or my neck or whatever.”
The remainder of period one was much the same. Tootoo put a puck off the end boards from the blueline and ran into his own rebound. When the puck was in the LA zone, which was most of the time, it was there for stretches that spanned what seemed like minutes, with Detroit playing keepaway and then firing high wristers at Bernier.
The strategy was something he noticed, and when IH asked him about it after the game, he said, “They get a lot of traffic, and it seemed like they were trying to get some rebounds. I felt like that was what they were doing. Usually they’re not a big shooting team, but they were coming in the zone and just wristing pucks to the net. It’s fine with me. It keeps me in the game.”
The Kings, meanwhile, suffered two penalties and squeaked a meagre five shots on goal. That’s because, as was mentioned, they didn’t touch the puck. Bernier credited the PK for keeping them in it. “It’s a specialty teams league. If they do well, you can win,” he indicated. His coach would later credit him for the PK success.
Period one ended with a 13-5 Red Wings advantage in shots and the 1-0 lead. It looked like their team was made up of a system that could function on interchangeable parts, no matter that some of those parts had been manufactured in factories where the quality control was a bit sketchy.
The only reason the Kings were still in it, according to Darryl Sutter, was that Bernier had been outstanding in the first frame. (He would eventually be voted the first star of the game.) “Five on three, no rebounds, [he made] a couple of big saves; that’s what you need to kill penalties. It’s almost the opposite of, our penalty kill has been struggling. We got two big kills in the first period, and a lot of it was our goaltender. The difference in the hockey game.”
The second period saw Kyle Clifford out-Detroiting Detroit, holding the puck on his stick for lengthy periods twice on one shift, but not being able to get a shot away. Jeff Carter came out of the corner and took a wrister that was stopped. But then the Wings went right back to work. Trevor Lewis tried to break past Detroit d-man Jonathan Ericsson, but he was unable to beat him.
That’s because the Wings were doing what they also do very well, which is cover for each other’s mistakes. Two further examples are offered here to make that point, both involving Dustin Brown. On the first, Detroit gave the puck away to the Kings’ Captain in the slot, but before he could do anything with it, someone got it back.
On the second, a Detroit defenseman rifled a puck to the blueline and Brown intercepted skating back into the zone. He moved to shoot the puck and was stick-checked as he released it. The short way of saying this is what they’ve been saying about the Wings for years: their game is one of no space, no time. They make a mistake, and they cover for it.
But that last sentence ended up telling the tale, because where they might be able to play with the puck and cover for mistakes like they always have, they also are much more prone to errors with the lineup they now feature, and eventually, all such things must be paid for. So it was on this night.
In somewhat uncharacteristic fashion, the Detroit composure fell to bits midway through the second period, as the Wings took three minors within less than a two-minute span. The math of that works out that they had three guys in the box at once, one with 2 minutes on his clock, one with 39 seconds, and the third with 16 seconds. Of course, only two men can be short at any one time. The Kings could not capitalize. Their puck carriers had no support, and their indecisiveness once set up in their formation meant that it took them too long to get shots off.
It looked like Detroit had gotten away with their mistakes. But period three turned the tables. On paper, it looks like this: shots advantage Detroit, 13-11. Power play chance: one, for LA, a five-on-three for almost two full minutes. Goals, 2-0, LA’s favor. That makes the final score 2-1.
The first goal came by Jeff Carter, a backwards redirect when the Wings were down two men. No big deal, if you’re going to take penalties. Remember, they had gotten away with the long five-on-three in the second period. The law of averages is going to catch up with you eventually.
So it was 1-1 with about half a period left to go. And then the Wings made another error. Nobody covered Kopitar. Surprising, this, since of all the Kings players, three were outstanding in their carrying of the puck. Brown, already discussed, Trevor Lewis, and Kopitar. At one point in the third, he wheeled all the way around the zone with the puck on his stick, one hand held out to fend off defenders.
Now, he was alone in the slot. Alone! One the ice for Detroit were the checkers, Drew Miller, Jordin Tootoo, and Cory Emmerton. And nobody marked the Kings’ premiere player. He got a puck out on a pass out of the corner, did a spin move that you’ve already seen in highlight footage a hundred times, and put the puck into the net.
After, when asked about the move, he said that one has little time to make such decisions. You just go with what’s available. “Next time,” he said, “Maybe I’ll use the forehand.” Doesn’t matter. What it did was put the Kings up 2-1. The assists went to Dwight King and Trevor Lewis.
Darryl Sutter, in his post-game press conference, was much more direct than he often is. He said that King and Lewis “were good off the walls,” citing particularly their work in setting Kopitar up for that eventual winning goal. “Quite honestly, that was the biggest problem we had, and that was wingers weren’t very good on the walls. We’re just trying to find three sets of wingers that will give us that in the third. We got lucky, right? Got lucky we had the right guys out there. The players didn’t get lucky.”
The Wings never answered, despite the already-cited shots advantage in period three. They were not dangerous with the puck as they had been earlier. Their mojo was gone.
Perhaps that’s the price of their game, which in its high-intensity format must take a lot from the players. Those whose names live in Red Wing infamy, the Filppulas, Franzens, and Samuelssons, can handle that pace and pressure. The subs, apparently, cannot. So it was the Wings, and it was their game, that the fans at Staples were treated to. It’s just that they couldn’t play it for 60 minutes. As a result, the LA Kings notched the win.
The coach was unusually frank post-game, talking about the goalies, particularly. He said that Quick did not come into the season ready. Then he said that he wouldn’t have played until January in a normal season (because of his injury). He mentioned that the goaltenders need to get their save percentage up. “Jonathan Quick has to move [the number] up. His save percentage has to be better. It is improving. Look where it started and look where it is. There’s only one way that it can improve, and that’s get to play.” He mentioned Boston, saying that they need to emulate them. “They give up the fewest shots; we give up the second fewest shots. Then it comes down to the guy that’s stopping the shots.”