Detroit Red Wings.
Despite once again having star defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom (ankle) and dynamic center Pavel Datsyuk (knee) in street clothes with injuries, the Red Wings dominated the Minnesota Wild pretty much start to finish on Friday night during a 6-0 rout at Joe Louis Arena.
Led by three-point games from Valtteri Filppula (two goals and an assist), Henrik Zetterberg (a goal and two assists) and Niklas Kronwall (three assists), Detroit led 5-0 after two periods and added a sixth goal early in the third to cruise home with the win.
"Two of the better players in the League are missing from our team and those are big losses, but we just have to try to keep winning without them," said Filppula, whose goals gave him a career-high 21 this season. "Certainly it gives opportunities for other guys, too, which is good. We've had good depth on the team during the season and when you have a couple of key guys out you really need that depth."
The Wings, who moved within a point of Vancouver for the top spot in the Western Conference and the overall standings, keep getting production from different areas. In this game, for instance, they got their second goal from a rookie defenseman – Brendan Smith – who made it 2-0 late in the first with his first career goal in his first regular-season home game.
He also did it in front of his parents and grandfather, Lester Smith Sr.
"It was huge to have my grandfather here," Smith said. "I mean, when we were little kids, there are three of us and we only had two parents, so he had to jump in there and drive us. He’s always been there for us and he was the reason for us getting to practice a lot of times and games. He’s pretty much the third parent there for us … so he’s on Cloud Nine."
If some of the Red Wings are, too, it’s understandable.
Almost buried in the impressive display of puck possession and offense was goalie Jimmy Howard picking up his 33rd win and stopping all 19 shots he faced for his sixth shutout of the season. It was also Howard's first victory in four starts since returning from a fractured finger that kept him out for eight games.
He faced just five shots in each of the first two periods, as the Wings kept Minnesota’s Josh Harding (23 saves) scrambling at the other end, so what was Howard’s toughest task all night?
"Making sure you're following the puck at the other end, but [I've] got to give props to the guys," Howard said. "They got a lot on [Harding] quick and we played our half-ice game most of the night.''
Darren Helm and Ian White also scored for the Red Wings (43-19-3), who prevented the Wild (28-27-10) from becoming the only opposing team this season to go undefeated in this building. Minnesota, which has lost four of its last five games and is winless in three straight, beat the Red Wings 2-1 here in overtime on Nov. 1 – five days before Detroit began its NHL record home winning streak of 23 games.
This time, it wasn't even close and the domination started immediately. Filppula tapped home his own rebound off a rush just 35 seconds into the game and in a flash the Red Wings were already up by a goal.
Harding was in for injured starter Niklas Backstrom (strained groin), who had an MRI done on Friday afternoon that showed he could be out two to four weeks. It couldn’t have gone much worse. After Zetterberg finished off a tic-tac-toe goal into a wide-open net to make it 6-0 early in the third, Harding was pulled in favor of Matt Hackett.
Wild coach Mike Yeo was most disappointed with his team's overall effort. Minnesota was coming off a gut-wrenching 5-4 shootout loss on Thursday night in Montreal, and the Wild looked like a team going through the motions when compared to the high-flying Red Wings.
"We gave them the first two goals and then put ourselves in a real tough spot," Yeo said. "We didn't respond well after that, and they felt pretty good about the way things were going. That's too good of a team to let them feel that way. We were chasing all game and we didn't have the legs, but with that said we lost our heads. We didn't play well."
Detroit sure did, finishing with 35 shots on goal to just 19 for the Wild – who nearly allowed a couple more goals in the third. The impressive win by Detroit was also the first by the Red Wings on their home ice since dropping two in a row – one in overtime and the other in regulation – to end that record home victory streak last week.
Unlike the bulk of games the past couple of weeks, Detroit out-skated the opposition right off the hop. It resulted in the game's first goal from Filppula, who reached the 20-goal mark for the first time.
It was also Filppula's third straight game with a goal and fourth in the past five, as well as his ninth point in as many games. Moments later, Helm was sprung for a breakaway and shot it wide, but the tone was set. The Wings continued to pour it on offensively and ended the first with a 13-5 advantage in shots to go with their 2-0 lead thanks to Smith's rebound tally with 3:56 left in the opening period.
Helm made it 3-0 at 7:05 of the second with his eighth goal – which he scored by simply wristing a shot through traffic from the top of the circles that Harding didn't see because of a screen in front by Drew Miller. Filppula and White added goals 1:07 apart late in the third for the five-goal advantage before the duo picked up assists on Zetterberg's goal early in the third that completed the scoring and ended Harding's night.
It also gave Zetterberg six goals in the past 11 games and 13 points in as many contests. Zetterberg centers a line with Filppula (21 goals) on left wing and Jiri Hudler (20 goals) on the right, with the trio really impressing. They were also involved in three goals on Friday night for a combined tally of six points. Each of them also finished with plus-3 ratings.
"We found good chemistry," Zetterberg said. "We played most of the season together and it's nice to have that consistency. It's fun to play with those two. Fil's a real good skater and Huds does a real good job in front of the net. If you were to say he's a net-front guy before the year, I don't think you would believe that. But he's working real hard and I don't think he's getting enough credit for what he's doing for me and Fil."