DETROIT -- All it took was one game against the struggling, winless Columbus Blue Jackets to prompt a new question about the surging undefeated Detroit Red Wings: What power-play problem?
After starting the season 0-for-18 with the extra attacker, the Red Wings are suddenly red-hot on the power play after going 3-for-5 on Friday night at Joe Louis Arena in a 5-2 win against Columbus. The win also pushed the Wings' record to 5-0-0, their best start since 1972. Detroit began 1972-73 with a team-best six-game winning streak -- and will try to match that when they visit the 6-0-0 Washington Capitals on Saturday night.
It's an impressive start -- and even more so when you consider the lengthy gaps in the early-season schedule. The Wings had been off since a 3-2 overtime victory at Minnesota on Saturday.
"It's great for us (to be unbeaten) and it's real important with the way we (haven't) played that much," said forward Johan Franzen, who scored a pair of power-play goals in the first period and has three of Detroit's four goals with the man advantage this season. "If we only had like two wins right now, we would feel like we were way behind. It's huge to win the games that we (have had)."
Now they head off to Washington with a scorching hot power play, which also produced a goal by captain Nicklas Lidstrom in the third that gave Detroit a 4-2 lead a needed lift to finish this game off. It was Lidstrom's second goal of the season and it was set up by Valtteri Filppula – who wound up with a monster four-point game that included assists on all three power-play goals.
Filppula's goal was an empty-netter in the last minute of play and came via a pass from Franzen, who appeared to eschew his own chance at a hat trick to reward Filppula. However, Filppula thought it was more about superstition than anything. Last season, Franzen scored five goals in a game Feb. 2 against the Ottawa Senators -- then scored just two more times in the final 27 games of the season.
"I kind of wanted (Franzen) to have (the empty-netter), but I guess last season he had a hat trick and didn't score for 20 games," Filppula said. "I guess he didn't want to jinx it."
For the record, Franzen denied that rationale.
"I didn't say that," he said with a laugh. "(Filppula's) lying. He tried to get it to me, but the (defender) went down to try and block the shot and took my legs with him. I figured I had a 90-percent chance of scoring and a 100-percent chance to make the pass, so I went for the pass."
The game was already out of reach for the Blue Jackets (0-6-1) by that point
Pavel Datsyuk's even-strength goal just 27 seconds into the second wound up being the game-winner despite Columbus cutting Detroit's lead to 2-1 at the end of the first on Derick Brassard's second goal of the season. Datsyuk's tally gave the Wings another two-goal margin; Lindstrom's goal made it a two-goal game again after Aaron Johnson scored Columbus' second goal to make it 3-2 just 1:42 into the period.
Lidstrom was in the penalty box at the time of Johnson's goal, but he soon made up for it by scoring Detroit's third power-play goal to make it 4-2 and cap a 5-on-3 situation that nearly lasted a full two minutes. Johnson, who also had a Franzen goal deflect off him in the first, was just six seconds away from getting out of the penalty box.
Instead, the Red Wings got the clincher -- and the Jackets went home losers for the seventh time in as many games. They've scored exactly two goals in each game.
"It was one of those nights where there were some good parts to the game, but just not enough to get it done," Columbus coach Scott Arniel said. "The only answers are going to come from that (locker) room and we've got to find a way to stick together here, move to our next game and somehow, some way battle hard to find a win. You can't just be close in this League. You've got to go all the way for 60 minutes. We're finding ways to lose now instead of giving ourselves a chance to win."
It's just the opposite for the Red Wings, who now look even tougher with a bolstered power play. Since their dry spell to start the season, the Wings have scored on four of their last six power plays in the previous two games.
Is it the result of spending extended time in practices during the long delay between games this past week?
Possibly, but Filppula thinks it might just be the hot streak they've been expecting.
"We've definitely been practicing that a lot because you need to have a good power play," Filppula said. "But we've had some good chances in previous games, too. We just haven't been able to score. Now we've got a few, so that's a good thing."
The Jackets, meanwhile, will take just about any good news at this point. They're already banged up with injuries as it is and appeared to lose defenseman Radek Martinek early in the first period with an apparent concussion following two big hits in the defensive zone.
Arniel didn't know the severity of the injury, but Columbus is already without forward Jeff Carter (broken foot), defenseman James Wisniewski (suspension), forward Jared Boll (broken thumb), center Kristian Huselius (torn pectoral muscle) and two injured backup goaltenders.
"We can't use excuses and we try to stay positive all the time, but we've played some good games and we came out short in a couple of them," Brassard said. "We have a chance to play (Saturday) against a young team that's pretty much in the same situation as us, so we've got to figure it out here. We've got injuries but it isn't an excuse. We need to play with what we've got."