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Wings rediscover defense in 3-1 win over Devils

by Brian Hunter /
A few thoughts while we click our heels with new Sharks coach Todd McLellan and remind ourselves there's no place like home:

Putting the "D" back in Detroit — Despite being the defending Stanley Cup champions and leading the Central Division early this season, the Detroit Red Wings still had some areas of concern after their first dozen games.

Returning to action Saturday night after a five-day layoff and a lengthy road trip, the Red Wings registered a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils at Joe Louis Arena. They showed a renewed commitment to defense after yielding an average of 3.33 goals per game entering the night.

"We're getting back to the way we usually play. We gave it away a few times, and we have to get away from that on a regular basis," goaltender Chris Osgood said. "It was good for us to practice for a week and get back to the basics. We did a lot better job tonight defensively than we have in the past."

Osgood made 24 saves and Marian Hossa scored a pair of goals to lead the Wings. Kirk Maltby also tallied, and all three Detroit goals came at even strength, another positive sign. While the power play had been lethal coming in, the team had actually been outscored 23-22 during 5-on-5 play.

"We didn't rely on our power play tonight, which is really nice," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.

Holding the fort — Perhaps the only reason the Tampa Bay Lightning didn't get blown out of the Wachovia Center in the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers was the goaltending of Mike Smith.

Despite getting outshot 18-5 in the opening 20 minutes, the Lightning trailed just 1-0 thanks to Smith. They thanked their goalie for his effort by striking for a pair of goals in the second and edging the Flyers 2-1 to win for the first time on a five-game road trip that began with a shootout loss in New Jersey and a defeat to the Rangers.

"We responded and I'm happy with the way the guys responded," Smith said after finishing with 34 saves. "You could tell in the first period, we were lackadaisical with the puck. We weren't hitting, we were losing puck battles, and it showed all over the ice."

Meanwhile, the Flyers were left to wonder what happened after a promising start couldn't prevent them from losing for the 14th time in the last 17 games against the Lightning. They also fell to 2-4-1 at home.

"It's odd when we're scoring goals in bunches and couldn't keep them out of our net, now we are keeping them out of our net and we are not scoring," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "It has to start from not giving up as much at our net. That is where this thing is going to turn around. I think we did that tonight and that is a step in the right direction."

The man in net — Brent Johnson has watched them come and go over the last couple seasons with the Washington Capitals. Olaf Kolzig. Cristobal Huet. Jose Theodore. One thing that has always been the same has been Johnson's role, to back up whoever's holding down the No. 1 role at the time.

All of a sudden, Johnson has emerged as the goaltender the Capitals can depend on. He started his third straight game and delighted the Verizon Center crowd in a 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers that improved him to 3-0-2 as a starter.

"Brent kept us in the game," Washington forward Brooks Laich said. "He's seeing everything. He'll probably say the puck looks like the size of a beach ball."

Quite accurate. "I'm just seeing the puck real well," said Johnson, who has turned aside 102 of 107 shots during his three-game run.

Theodore was given a decent-sized contract to assume the starting role, but has struggled. Washington coach Bruce Boudreau admitted he might have no choice but to lean a little more heavily on Johnson for the time being.

"He might (start) Monday again, but Wednesday we might have a different No. 1. I'm not into these goalie controversies. If you're playing good, you're playing good," Boudreau said. "Right now Brent is really playing well and he's in a position he hasn't been in for quite a few years. So I hope he's relishing it."

Happy to be a Leaf — There was no room on the Montreal Canadiens for Mikhail Grabovski. That's turning out to be a major gain for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Grabovski, who scored three goals in 27 career games for the Habs over parts of two seasons, already has seven in his first 15 games as a Leaf after being traded during the offseason. That includes six goals in his last four games, one of which came at Air Canada Centre as his current team doubled up his former one, 6-3.

"He's been our best player for two weeks," coach Ron Wilson said. "He's been a dominant player. That's why he's got seven goals now."

In addition to the goal, Grabovski also helped set up the game's first goal with a nifty move to get around Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov during a Toronto power play. That allowed Grabovski to set up Niklas Hagman at the side of the net for the first of his two scores on the night.

"For sure he wanted to show the coach and show the other players on the team that he is a good player," Hagman said. "I think that he did a pretty good job."

Said the Montreal coach Hagman was referring to, Guy Carbonneau: "(Grabvoski's) playing well. Good for him."


Climbing the standings —
The Red Wings are used to having pursuers in the race for the Central Division title. It's usually not the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Life is good in Ohio right now, however, and the fans at Nationwide Arena had plenty to cheer as the Blue Jackets captured their third straight behind rookie goalie Steve Mason, topping the Calgary Flames 3-1 and vaulting into second place in the Central, four points behind Detroit.

"The organization doesn't have a reputation of being a strong team, but I think we've changed that this year," said Mason, 3-0 since being called up following an injury to starter Pascal Leclaire. "And hopefully it continues."

Young players like Mason and Derick Brassard, the rookie of the month for October, have given the Blue Jackets a big push in their attempt to earn the first playoff berth in franchise history. Brassard had the game-winner against the Flames, while veterans Jason Chimera and Manny Malhotra also scored.

"We're definitely evolving as a team and becoming more of a team, if that makes sense," Malhotra said. "We now have the ability to roll four lines competitively. Everybody can contribute. Our young guys are adding points and playing well. Our goaltending is standing on its head. Every aspect of our game is coming along nicely. It's all coming together."

Where's the puck? — The New York Islanders came within inches of tying up their shootout with the Pittsburgh Penguins — at least that was the final verdict according to the officials and the video review team. Trent Hunter might very well have scored on the final attempt of the penalty-shot competition, but the puck ended up stuck in Dany Sabourin's equipment and nobody could be sure exactly where it was as the goalie's body ended up sliding into the net.

"It was a tough call," Sabourin said. "It was pretty close. The puck was in my pad where my knee was. There's no way (referees) could see the puck."

As a result, the Penguins may have literally escaped with the 4-3 victory at Nassau Coliseum. Of course, there was also the issue of the Islanders relinquishing another multiple-goal lead and losing a game where they led in the third period.

In this instance, New York was up 3-1 in the second before Jordan Staal scored before period's end and Tyler Kennedy tied it in the third with his second of the game. Petr Sykora's goal in the first round of the shootout stood up as the winner after Hunter was ultimately denied.

"It's terrible," New York defenseman Andy Sutton said. "If you lose and learn from it, it's one thing, but if you lose and don't learn from it, it's completely another. You have to make a decision on how you want to play and stick with it."

Back on the ice — Manny Fernandez had sat and watched for the previous five games. It had been even longer since Chuck Kobasew saw the ice. They were important contributors to the Boston Bruins.

Fernandez made 32 saves as Tim Thomas got a rare night off of late, and Kobasew sparked the offense with a goal and an assist in his return from a broken leg that sidelined him for 12 games, as the Bruins defeated the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 at TD Banknorth Garden.

"Chuck looked good," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I told him if he came back in, he had to be a difference-maker."

He was — Kobasew snapped a 1-1 tie 2:07 into the second period when his shot from the right wing appeared to deflect off a Buffalo defenseman and past Ryan Miller.

"It's nice when you don't have to fight it," Kobasew said. "I got lucky."

Fernandez, who had been a spectator as Thomas started five straight, made the lead stand up. He made a key stop on Jason Pominville during a third-period power play to keep the Sabres from staging a comeback.

"It took the first period to get adjusted," Fernandez said. "You try to keep the rebounds in your favor."

Playing the stopper — One might be the loneliest number, but it was just enough for Peter Budaj and the Colorado Avalanche to snap a five-game losing streak.

Darcy Tucker's 200th NHL goal was all the offense the Avalanche could muster, but Budaj turned aside all 26 shots the Nashville Predators threw at him in a 1-0 win at Pepsi Center. It was his sixth career shutout and first since March 6, 2007, against Boston.

"I made a couple of big saves early and it helped me calm down," Budaj said. "When you're losing, you try to think too much, you try to create too much. We simplified it tonight."

Colorado didn't always make it easy for Budaj, giving Nashville seven power-play opportunities. Shea Weber had a pair of great chances to tie the game during a man-advantage in the third, but Budaj shut the door on him twice.

"That was against a great goal scorer," Avalanche coach Tony Granato said. "That was probably as good a position as you could have, in the slot. He didn't give him much, he challenged him and he made a great save."

Falling on hard times — Four wins in seven games to begin the season is now a distant memory for the Florida Panthers, who lost 4-1 to the Phoenix Coyotes and dropped their sixth in a row (0-5-1), leaving them last in the Eastern Conference.

"We're not playing hard enough," defenseman Keith Ballard said. "At times we play OK, but at times we make dumb plays and it's not good."

The Panthers play again Sunday in Anaheim as they conclude a five-game road trip that has seen little go right to this point.

"We have a way of not handling adversity very well," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. "That's been a problem here in the first month of the season. As soon as we face adversity, we're trying to do too much. That's not the way a team handles adversity."

Former captain Olli Jokinen came back to haunt his old team with a goal and an assist in front of his new home fans at Arena.

"I think it was more emotional for my family, but when you're playing, you don't think about it," Jokinen said. "It's nice to score but at the end of the day, you want your team to win."

That's the way it bounces — Marty Turco was working on an exceptional night in goal and the Dallas Stars had their first two-game winning streak of the season in sight, but it all came crashing down on one pivotal play in the final minute of regulation.

After stopping a Brad Lukowich dump-in on goal, Turco decided to gamble and tried backhanding the puck straight up the middle. Instead, he hit the skate of San Jose Sharks captain Patrick Marleau, and after a couple whacks of Marleau's stick the puck was in the net with 28.3 seconds remaining and the Sharks were on their way to a 2-1 win at HP Pavilion.

"It came at the right time, I guess," Marleau said. "He was out playing the puck a lot tonight, making some pretty good plays, and we were just on the fortunate end of the miscue."

Until that point it had been a brilliant goaltending duel between Turco and Brian Boucher, who had shutouts in both his previous starts this season and carried one into the third period Saturday. Thanks in large part to Turco's blunder, Boucher ran his record to a perfect 3-0 and San Jose improved to 13-2-0, tops in the League.

"We've got no regrets, and Marty played a heck of a game, made some big saves and some critical ones," Dallas captain Brenden Morrow said. "They're an elite team, and we're a team that's trying to find themselves. We played pretty solid and gave ourselves a chance."

In the zone — Logic says Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo is going to give up a goal eventually. Perhaps even before the new year. Watching him play this past week, though, it's hard to believe it. The team captain simply looks unbeatable.

"I think it was his best performance yet," said Vancouver center Ryan Kesler after Luongo made 29 saves in a 2-0 win over the Minnesota Wild for his third consecutive shutout. "He kept us in it."

Luongo's shutout streak reached 201 minutes, 8 seconds — not quite a franchise record, because last season Luongo had a streak of 212:12, also recording back-to-back-to-back shutouts during that stretch. He'll get a chance to best that Wednesday at G.M. Place against Colorado.

As good as Luongo's been in his NHL career, the Wild have always given him fits. It didn't come easily Saturday, as Niklas Backstrom also played a solid game in net, but Sami Salo and Daniel Sedin found the back of the net and Luongo took it from there.

"Just because they've maybe had my number in the past doesn't mean that trend has to continue," Luongo said. "You just focus on your job and what you've gotta do and the rest takes care of itself."

Waiting his turn — Erik Ersberg stated his case late last season as a potential goalie of the future for the Los Angeles Kings, but he found himself sitting and watching when the 2008-09 campaign began, as Jason LaBarbera made 10 straight starts in net.

Now Ersberg is getting another look and taking advantage. In his third consecutive start, he made 24 saves and helped the Kings to a 5-3 win over the St. Louis Blues at Staples Center.

"We've got two wins in a row and it feels great," Ersberg, now 2-0-1, said. "It's always easier to play when the defense plays like it has the last two games. They're letting me see the puck and clearing the rebounds."

The Kings are 8-5-3 over the past two seasons in games started by Ersberg. The 26-year-old Swede dropped a 1-0 overtime decision to Anaheim in his first start on Tuesday and then faced 15 shots in a 3-2 victory over Florida on Thursday.

"I thought we had all kinds of chances to score on our power plays, but Ersberg played well," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "We were trying, we didn't quit. We were battling until the end and I think we made them nervous. They made a good play and got that empty-net goal, but we didn't fade away."

Material from wire services was used in this report

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