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Defense gets offensive against Islanders

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Jonathan Ericsson's third-period goal gives him points in four straight games for the first time in his NHL career. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – Recently, Red Wings players and coaches discussed ways to get the defensemen more involved in the offense.

Whatever was said lately certainly did the trick in a rare Saturday matinee at Joe Louis Arena.

Defensemen were linked to every goal – including two power-play tallies – as the Red Wings rolled to a 4-1 victory over the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Islanders before the 171st consecutive sold-out crowd in Detroit.

“We’re trying to look at different ways to create offense,” said defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, who scored his third goal of the season. “We didn’t get that many shots. Usually the tops are open and when the forwards get it to us we have to be better getting pucks through and creating some offense. And not getting the shots blocked. … We’re getting more shots though and more passes.”

The win is the Wings’ sixth straight at home and the 1,700 all-time in franchise history.

For the moment, Detroit (67 points) is now tied with Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division as well as the Eastern Conference. Tampa Bay is one point back and hosts Columbus later this evening.

“I think after that loss in Tampa, I don’t think we played terribly bad, but pucks went in (for the Lightning),” said Ericsson, referring to Thursday’s 5-1 loss. “Today we got the bounces with us instead. It was nice to get back on track and not get two losses against big teams here.”

The Red Wings took a 1-0 lead when defenseman Danny DeKeyser and center Pavel Datsyuk set up Tomas Tatar’s power-play goal, his team-leading 22nd goal of the season, at 5:29 of the opening period.

Brendan Smith put Detroit up 2-0 with a one-timer from Tomas Jurco in the final minute of the second period.

“I was kind of lucky that Jurcy gave me the puck on a platter and I was able to walk into it,” Smith said. “I was fortunate that I got all of it and put it exactly where I wanted it. I’ll take it. Those types of opportunities don’t come very often, especially for D-men in our game. But when you have the chance you have to bury it.”

The Islanders cut the Wings’ lead in half on Lubomir Visnovsky’s third-period goal. But Ericsson and Gustav Nyquist increased the Wings lead on goals less than four-minutes apart.

Ericsson’s unassisted goal from the left point glanced off the Thomas Hickey’s shin pad deflecting the puck past goalie Chad Johnson at 9:21 of the final period. Nicklas Kronwall picked up an assist on Nyquist’s power-play goal at 13:08.

Ericsson now has two goals and four points in the past four games. It’s the first time that the 30-year-old Swedish defenseman has registered points in four straight games in his seven-season NHL career.

“I didn’t even know that,” Ericsson said. “It’s nice to get a goal. To get points is nice.”

Smith was much more complimentary of Ericsson’s accomplishment.

“I’m impressed with that,” Smith said. “It’s interesting to see how sometimes those points come in waves and you want to ride that wave as long as possible and E’s doing a good job of it. As long as he can keep doing it and getting those pucks through, that’s the biggest thing because everybody is so good at blocking shots. It you can get those pucks through there’s a chance they go in.”

The goals by Smith and Ericsson give the Red Wings’ defensive corps 20 goals through 50 games. They accounted for just 26 goals all of last season. Saturday was the fifth time this season – twice in past four games – that the Wings have gotten multiple goals from their defensemen.

“Our forwards are so good at moving the puck and cycling and making plays out of that,” Smith said, “but I think with the new game you’ve got to use the D at the point and you’ve got to open up the ice because every team is playing the swarm system. It’s hard to create any offense out of it. So I think we’re trying to spread teams out a little more and it’s been affective with us scoring more goals.”

Petr Mrazek
Goalie  - DET
Record: 11-4-1
GAA: 2.66 | Sv%: .906
MRAZEK REBOUNDS: Following Thursday’s game when he was pulled after allowing five goals in two periods Petr Mrazek showed his ability to wipe the slate clean.

The rookie goalie made 22 saves Saturday to run his record to 7-2-0 while filling in for the injured Jimmy Howard (groin) and Jonas Gustavsson (shoulder).

“What a great way to bounce back,” said Ericsson, of Mrazek’s performance against the Islanders. “He’s been playing really well, just some bounces have been getting in. We have all the confidence in the world in him. It was nice for his own confidence that he can just put that (Tampa Bay) game aside and play a good game tonight.”

Mrazek has compiled an 11-4-1 record with a 2.66 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in 17 appearances this season.

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