GLENDALE, Ariz. – Their power play is still clunky, there are barely a .500 team on the road and they are still making too many defensive mistakes to suit coach Mike Babcock or the players themselves.
But don't forget to add this about the Detroit Red Wings: They will wake up Friday morning with the best record in the NHL.
Todd Bertuzzi had a goal in regulation and scored the only goal in the shootout as the Red Wings won their fifth straight game and leap-frogged Chicago and the New York Rangers for sole possession of first place in the overall standings by beating the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 on Thursday night.
"Big Bert, when you see him shoot the puck like that you wonder why he doesn't shoot it all the time," Babcock said. "He likes to pass it … I thought he was really effective, really skated well and that's important for us."
Ian White also scored for the Red Wings, who improved to 15-2-2 against the Coyotes in Arizona since the beginning of the 2005-06 season. The Red Wings won despite failing on all five power plays – the Coyotes had three calls for too many men on the ice – and Detroit is now 3-for-41 with the man advantage in its last 16 games -- but has won 11 of them.
The Red Wings climbed over both the Rangers and Blackhawks with a League-best 63 points. They also evened their road record at 13-13-0 away from Joe Louis Arena, where they are 18-2-1 and riding a 15-game winning streak.
"Our power play wasn't good enough tonight, hasn't been good enough in a long time," Babcock said. "We're not building enough momentum for the caliber of players we have. We weren't clicking on all cylinders by any means but we found a way to grind out a road win."
After Detroit's Jimmy Howard stopped three Phoenix shooters and the Coyotes' Mike Smith denied two, Bertuzzi won it when he swept in from the right side and made a spin move in front of the net before lifting a backhander into the net. The Red Wings are now 7-1 in overtime and 4-0 in shootouts this season, and those extra points are making all the different in a tight race.
The Red Wings had a big PK of their own when Pavel Datsyuk was called for tripping 1:41 into overtime. Shane Doan had a good chance near the crease and Keith Yandle had a couple of rips from the point. But Howard, who has won seven straight games against the Coyotes, made 31 saves before stopping Doan, Radim Vrbata and Gilbert Brule in the shootout.
"Doan had the chance there and we were fortunate it trickled wide, and then we got to the shootout and we were able to win the skills competition," said Howard, now 28-10-1 on the season. "Some years you can't win one, other years you can't lose them. Right now we're just finding ways and we've just got to continue on the same track."
Raffi Torres and Brule scored for the Coyotes, who lost in a shootout to Detroit for the second time in seven days. Smith made 33 saves for the Coyotes, including one on Valtteri Filppula just before the overtime buzzer to force the shootout.
The Coyotes not only lost the game, they lost another player. On the night that center Martin Hanzal returned after missing 12 games after being hit in the head with a stick, Daymond Langkow was hit in the face by a puck off the stick of Detroit's Jiri Hudler in the second period and didn't return.
"They are key guys in your lineup, guys that touch so many different parts of the game," said Phoenix coach Dave Tippett, who added Langkow "wasn't very good" in the dressing room afterward. "We're thin at that spot to being with and to lose one in a game like that; especially in a back-to-back … it's tough on our group."
For the second straight night, the Coyotes' fourth line was their best. On Wednesday in Anaheim, Torres set up Kyle Chipchura for his first goal on 74 games; this time Chipchura's hard work behind the net allowed Torres to collected the puck and put it between Howard's pads with a wraparound at 2:23. It was Torres' seventh goal of the season and the first of two assists for the light-scoring Chipchura, who has five points in the last five games (1-4-5).
"Chipchura's doing everything he possibly can to help us win hockey games," Tippett said.
But Phoenix didn't keep the momentum for long. The Coyotes lost Langkow four minutes and were outshot and outhustled for the rest of the period. At 1:36 of the second, Johan Franzen set up White for a shot from the point, using Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris as a screen to beat Smith for his sixth goal to even the game.
Detroit took its first lead at 11:13 when Franzen served up a backhand pass from behind the net that Bertuzzi stepped into and blasted past Smith from deep in the right circle. It was Bertuzzi's 10th goal of the season -- making him the sixth Wing to reach double figures – and his fourth in four games.
"He snapped it in there and kind of caught me off-guard," Smith said. "Give me a hundred pucks and I'm not sure hit could hit that spot again, but it was a world-class shot."
Phoenix appeared on the brink of folding but regrouped late in the period. Brule came to the aid of Chipchura after a post-whistle scrum in the Detroit crease and picked up a roughing penalty and came flying out of the box after the kill. He intercepted a Tomas Holmstrom pass in the neutral zone, worked a give-and-go with Chipchura and gave Howard a shoulder shake before beating him between the pads at 14:08 to knot the game at 2-2.
It was the second goal and third point in five games for Brule, who was plucked off the waiver wire on Jan. 10 and has given the Coyotes a much-needed boost of offensive creativity.
"He's a high-skilled guy but he's willing to go into the hard places to make his presence felt, Tippett said. "I thought he was all around the game tonight."
Both teams had a chance to win the game late, but Torres hit the post behind Howard with four minutes left while Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg hit posts on successive shots less than a minute later.
Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom played in his 1,541st NHL game Thursday, passing Hall of Famer Johnny Bucyk for sole possession of 11th place in NHL history. Lidstrom is eight games behind Hall of Famer and Red Wings great Alex Delvecchio and making the top 10 list in NHL history.
The 41-year-old Lidstrom played in his 211th straight game, the longest active streak of any Red Wing.