DETROIT – One of Mike Babcock's most common catch phrases is about "starting on time" it's another way of saying a good start to the game by his Detroit Red Wings would be just fine by their coach.
What happened on Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena took it to the extreme. Either the Red Wings started really early or the Phoenix Coyotes were still a time zone or two away. Regardless, Detroit ended a two-game losing streak by scoring early and often in a five-goal first period that paved the way to a 5-2 victory against the stunned Coyotes.
"(It was) a real good start for us," Babcock said. "We got them on their heels right away. I thought the guys really had jump. I would have liked to see us sustain the game better than we did, but we got good goaltending out of (Jimmy Howard) in the second and the third. It's a good win for our team and a good bounce back."
It was the third game in four nights for Phoenix (15-10-3) after tough back-to-back road wins at Chicago and Nashville earlier this week. It was also the first time back in this arena for the Coyotes since last spring, when the Wings swept them out of the first round of the playoffs with former star goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in net.
This time, free-agent signee Mike Smith was in goal. He carried a solid 13-6-3 record and a .931 save percentage into the game -- but that didn't matter. Detroit came out "on time" and threatened to burn out the red light behind Smith's head.
It was the first time the Wings (17-9-1) scored five goals in the first period since Feb. 7, 2009 against the Edmonton Oilers, a game that ended in an 8-3 rout. Like that one, this game was basically over after the first 20 minutes.
The Wings got goals from Todd Bertuzzi, Valtteri Filppula, Tomas Holmstrom, Darren Helm and Jiri Hudler in the first period, and four players already had multi-point games before they even hit the locker room for the first intermission – including Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, each of whom had two assists.
Filppula also added an assist for a two-point game and he now has six goals and three assists in his last seven games, despite missing Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues because of a deep cut to his shin that happened last weekend in Colorado.
Playing with Kevlar socks to protect his skin, Filppula once again made himself a big factor for Detroit’s offensive attack – something that is becoming a regular occurrence since Babcock moved him from center to left wing of the second line with Zetterberg at center.
"You can think a little more offensively," Filppula said of the move. "It's different than playing center. You're going against one (defender) or maybe two guys. At center, you often go against the whole other line. It creates more chances."
That was evident early against the Coyotes, as Filppula scored off a nice feed from Zetterberg 2:09 into the game to give the Wings a 2-0 lead – just 53 seconds after a Phoenix turnover in the defensive zone led to Bertuzzi’s goal at 1:16. Filppula’s line also created Hudler’s goal to make it 5-0 with just 43 seconds left before the first intermission. Filppula now has 23 points in 26 games during what appears to be a breakout season for the smooth-skating 27-year old Finnish forward.
"We've had a combination on (our) line," Filppula said. "We're creating chances and getting goals too. That's the main thing. I'm not too worried if this is my best stretch or not. It's nice to get chances and score."
The Wings certainly did their share of that in the early going.
Holmstrom's goal made it 3-0 with 5:14 left in the first and capped off a power play. It was the 117th extra-man goal in his career and tied him with former Red Wings star Sergei Fedorov for fourth place in team history in power-play tallies.
Just 43 seconds after Holmstrom’s tally, scored off a rebound in front of the crease, Helm made it 4-0 with a nice tap-in off a slick pass by Chris Conner – who’d carried the puck behind the net. Smith was pulled at that point and replaced by backup Jason LaBarbera, who allowed Hudler’s goal.
It was an impressive onslaught, to say the least – even though both teams wound up with 12 shots in the period and 32 for the game.
The Wings appeared to slow up a little in the last two periods, which wasn’t to Babcock’s liking, but at least they got back on the winning track. The Coyotes, meanwhile, were left to pick up the pieces.
Radim Vrbata got a goal back for Phoenix late in the second by launching a laser that beat Howard (30 saves) with 4:45 left in the period – his eighth goal and 13th point in the past 11 games. Martin Hanzal added a power-play goal with 8:28 left in regulation when a shot by Shane Doan deflected off him and past Howard for his first goal in 16 games.
Ray Whitney picked up his 600th career assist on that goal, but was in no mood to celebrate it.
"The game was over before it really started," he said. "After that, it wasn't really that we played better. They just kind of eased up on the gas a little bit. If you're not ready at any given time, with the parity the League has, you can find yourself on the wrong end of a good whuppin.’ "
The best thing the Coyotes can do, Whitney said, is to forget about this one until the next time they face Detroit.
"They won the game in the first five or six minutes tonight and we didn't have anything else for them," he said. "What are you going to learn? I mean, you learn to take a (butt) kicking. That's about it."