DETROIT – The smile on Adam Almquist’s face could be seen from miles away.
He had good reason to celebrate. In just his second game with the Red Wings, the rookie defenseman had notched his first career NHL goal to give Detroit a 2-0 lead over Dallas in the second period.
“I got a really, really good pass from Zetterberg,” Almquist said of his goal. “I walked into the slot and got it and shot it and luckily it went in.”
The Red Wings opened up the scoring against Dallas Thursday night when Todd Bertuzzi netted his fifth goal of the season at 7:44 of the second period. Almquist’s goal came just over eight minutes later to give the Red Wings a comfortable 2-0 lead.
But the Stars rallied, scoring two goals in five minutes to erase Detroit’s lead. Shawn Horcoff closed the second period with Dallas’ first goal, and Jamie Benn added one of his own at 4:08 of the third to tie the game.
“Their first one was a tough one, right before the (second) period,” said Zetterberg. “Still, I think the second period we played really well. We knew they were going to hang around. We knew we needed to score more goals and unfortunately we couldn’t do that.”
Pavel Datsyuk gave the Red Wings a 3-2 advantage at 11:34 of the final period, as he danced around Shawn Horcoff and down the slot, sailing a wrist shot past Kari Lehtonen. Dallas would tie the game once more, though, as Cody Eakin scored at 18:50 to force extra minutes of play.
With only 19 seconds left in the overtime period, Rich Peverley scored the game-winning goal, giving Dallas a 4-3 victory.
“It’s a tough loss,” Zetterberg said. “We did a lot of good things. We played good enough defensively. I don’t think they created that many chances, I think we created more.”
The 4-3 loss gave Detroit its fourth straight defeat at the Joe Louis Arena for the first time in four years. Almquist’s goal was a bright spot in the loss, but there’s no doubt that he would’ve traded it for the W.
“I’m pretty sure he would exchange that for a win, but it’s fun to see him get rewarded,” said Zetterberg.
“That was (too bad) we couldn’t get the two points we wanted,” said Almquist. “It was a bitter end, bittersweet. We worked hard and deserved to win tonight.”
The Jonkoping, Sweden native will have a chance to get his first win as a Red Wing Saturday when Detroit hosts Tampa Bay. The Red Wings recalled Almquist from the Grand Rapids Griffins Sunday after Brendan Smith sustained a slightly separated shoulder against the Edmonton Oilers. Almquist became Detroit’s third prospect to make his NHL debut this season, earning a minus-2 rating in a 4-2 loss at Winnipeg on Monday.
His first game at the Joe Louis Arena proved to be much more memorable.
“The first game is always the first game,” said Almquist. “I was a little bit nervous and stuff like that but I felt a little bit better tonight, a little bit more comfortable.”
With teammates such as Zetterberg and Datsyuk, the defenseman understands that he needs to watch and learn as much as he can from the veterans to continue to be successful.
“It’s always good to be around guys like that and I’m blessed to play here in this locker room right now,” said Almquist. “I try to do the best with it and I try to watch and learn from those guys.”
His willingness to work hard and compete with the NHL’s best hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“He’s a real good player with the puck and he’s a smart player without it,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “But he’s not a big guy, so you’ve got to be way better positionally than everyone else, because you’re not going to win any battles. You’ve got to learn how to box out early and deflect early so you don’t get into strength contests out there. I didn’t think he was a problem.”
He may not have been the problem, but as Almquist continues to grow and develop, he will soon be causing them for NHL opponents.