DETROIT -- On a team having a roller-coaster start to its season, consider Phoenix Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov the team's designated stabilizer.
The Coyotes came into Joe Louis Arena on Thursday night without a win in three games and seeking more consistency than they'd shown in going 2-3-3 in its first eight. After a hard-fought 4-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings, they got a little taste of what they were searching for - but once again it was their stabilizer leading the way in goal.
Bryzgalov improved to 3-1-3 by making 43 saves, handing Detroit (5-2-1) its first regulation loss on home ice this season.
"He gives us a chance to win every time he's in there," said Phoenix coach Dave Tippett, who implored his team in a meeting on Wednesday to find its identity. "When you look at our top players and their production so far, it hasn't been very good. The margin for error is pretty slim, and he makes sure that margin for error stays close. He's been the one constant."
Bryzgalov is especially tough when spotted an early 3-0 lead, as he was on Thursday. Detroit goalie Chris Osgood, starting in place of injured Jimmy Howard, allowed three first-period goals in less than five minutes and didn't get settled until the second period.
That turned out to be enough for the Coyotes, who got a pair of goals by Lauri Korpikoski - the eventual game-winner at 11:56 of the first period and an empty-netter to seal it. Tippett was pleased with the first period when Phoenix outshot the Wings 15-11 and took that big lead into the first break despite killing three Detroit power plays.
"That first period is probably as good a period as we've played this year, other than the penalties," he said. "We just did a lot of things how we want to play."
Radim Vrbata and Keith Yandle also scored for the Coyotes in the first. As for facing 45 shots, Bryzgalov can't complain he's not seeing enough pucks to stay in a good rhythm.
"It keeps you in the game, but not that many," he said. "Obviously, we played better tonight than the last couple games. First period, we had a great one. We (defended) well, we were strong around our net and our defensemen didn't give (their) forwards rebounds."
Osgood rebounded and finished with 32 saves on 35 shots, giving the Wings a chance to come back. Osgood didn't find out about Howard being scratched with back spasms until the afternoon, after Howard had already participated in the morning skate and seemed OK.
Osgood started playing better in the second and came up with several big saves in the final two periods -- three in the second when another goal could have put the game away. Instead, Johan Franzen potted his sixth goal of the season at 13:05 of the second to get the Wings on the board and cut the lead to 3-1.
That goal came on a power play, when Jiri Hudler fired a shot from the top of the left circle that Franzen redirected between Bryzgalov's pads. Tomas Holmstrom then scored his second goal of the season 3:56 into the third to make it 3-2. Bryzgalov made three straight saves on Pavel Datsyuk by closing off the right post, but Holmstrom poked the loose puck between his pads.
The Wings then peppered Bryzgalov with shots - outshooting Phoenix 17-12 in the third and 34-21 in the last two periods. Thanks to Bryzgalov, it wasn't enough.
"You have a better chance of capitalizing on those power plays if you're not down 3-0 and you're not pressing," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who again was disappointed in the Wings' slow start on home ice. "Catch-up hockey is losing hockey. That's a fact. You've got to get started on time."
Korpikoski's first tally, a long slapper that wound up being the deciding goal, was the one that bothered Osgood most.
"It just curved a ton, but still that's no excuse," he said. "You've got to take that whole side away. I've got to get my entire body over there to make sure that doesn't happen."