DETROIT -- For a long time, the San Jose Sharks were just like a lot of other teams that came into Joe Louis Arena. They'd look a little wide-eyed to start off, get down by a few goals and then play hockey like they were sailors lost at sea.
That's not the case anymore.
Ever since former Detroit assistant Todd McLellan took over behind the bench in San Jose, the Sharks have stood toe-to-toe with the Wings. More recently, they've even gained the upper hand – as evidenced by Friday night's 4-2 win at Joe Louis Arena.
“We've been that glassy-eyed team in here,” said McLellan, whose team has knocked the Red Wings out of the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. “We've stood around and watched ‘em outshoot us 12-1 in the first four or five minutes and we've lost 7-1 here. They can do that. They're that talented. But we believe that we can compete with them. We think that we can play a game with them on a nightly basis. It doesn't guarantee us a win, but we do believe we can compete with them.”
That much shows in the way the Sharks have continued to frustrate Detroit in the past few seasons.
This win not only extended San Jose's current winning streak to four games this season – all coming on their current six-game road trip, which continues Saturday on Long Island -- it also was also the fourth straight regular-season win against Detroit dating back to last season and their fourth straight regular-season triumph in this arena.
It was also just the eighth regular-season win for San Jose in this building in the history of the franchise and McLellan upped his regular-season record to 7-6 against his former team. That prompted some in Detroit to question whether he bottled up some of the Wings' “magic” before heading off to Northern California four years ago.
“I would be a real dummy if I didn't, to tell you the truth,” McLellan said. “They're a good organization, they're well-coached, they have great ideas … but we're beyond that now. I think both organizations are. We have to have our own identities and our own plan. In four years … players, coaches and teams evolve. If (Wings coach) Mike (Babcock) and I were in the same spot we were in four years ago, we'd probably both be in a lot of trouble. We're growing and finding new ways and trying to make our teams better every day.”
It's clearly working for the Sharks, who got two goals from captain Joe Thornton – including the tie-breaker late in the second period. San Jose (5-3-0) also got goals from Ryane Clowe and Patrick Marleau, both of whom added assists for two-point nights.
Martin Havlat also had a pair of assists for the Sharks, who finish this road swing with games against the Islanders on Saturday and New York Rangers on Monday.
Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom scored for the Red Wings (5-3-0), while Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk each picked up a pair of assists. Still, Detroit has now lost three straight after starting the season 5-0-0. The Wings scored just four goals combined in those three defeats.
This time they were stymied by the Sharks defense and goalie Antti Niemi (30 saves), who was sharp all game except for a few odd bounces off the glass behind him in the first period. The first odd bounce, created off a point blast from Lidstrom that missed the net, led directly to Zetterberg's goal.
Another one off a missed shot by Nicklas Kronwall, nearly created another goal late in the first by Holmstrom before it was waived off for unintentional goalie interference. That would've put the Wings up 2-0, but the no-goal call instead allowed the Sharks to tie at 2:10 of the second on Clowe's power-play marker.
Marleau's goal a little more than five minutes later, scored after he beat former teammate Ian White to a loose puck in the Detroit zone, made it 2-1 and forced Detroit to play catch-up – which the Wings did on Holmstrom's first of the season to cap a power play late in the second.
That set the stage for Thornton's first, which he scored on a breakaway created by Detroit's defensemen getting caught out of position.
"He had so much time, I was thinking deke,” said Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who made 26 saves. “I thought he was going to try something. I didn't think he was going to fire it (from) in-between the hash marks. He noticed that he was all alone, so I figured that he was going to try and deke. He surprised me by shooting it that fast."
It didn't seem to surprise the crowd all that much. Red Wings fans have gotten used to the team wearing teal happily leaving town with two points – or a earning a playoff series win in April.
Detroit now heads to Minnesota for a game on Saturday night looking to fix its offensive woes and end the losing streak. On the positive side, the Wings did outhit the Sharks 28-19, so they did ratchet up the intensity a notch from a listless 4-1 loss this past Tuesday in Columbus.
"You can't get frustrated,” Lidstrom said. “You have to stick with it and keep working hard. You're going to have your ups and downs throughout the year. You have to fight through it. When you're facing (a losing spell), you've got to dig harder and work harder."