DETROIT – Once known as a legitimate scoring threat in the league, veteran forward Patrick Eaves returned to his hockey roots on Wednesday.
“I came into this league as an offensive player and over the years my role has changed a little bit,” said Eaves, a former 20-goal scorer. “But I can still score and shoot the puck a ton, so when I have it in the high slot there I’m still a threat to score.”
Or at the very least create chances, as he did all night against the Los Angeles Kings. Eaves registered four shots on goal – the most he’s had since the night he suffered a broken jaw 16 months ago – and assisted on Jordin Tootoo’s game-winner in the Red Wings' 3-1 victory at Joe Louis Arena.
From the very first shift, Eaves and his fourth-line mates sparked the Wings in the offensive zone, creating several scoring chances against Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. And it was Eaves who made the most of his 2 ½ minutes of ice-time in the first period, collecting three shots on goal and missing another on five first-period shifts.
While the teams took a scoreless tie into the first intermission, Eaves felt good about the early chances that he against Quick.
“He made a great stop on the first one when I was going across the crease,” Eaves said. “I think I got in a little too tight, but it just nicked his glove. I had a couple of good shots on him tonight, but he made some great saves.”
Eaves credited his shots on the time and space that he had in the middle of the ice.
“We were spaced out better,” said Eaves of his linemates Tootoo and Cory Emmerton. “We were there for support, but we weren’t right next to each other. That seemed like it was the key. Sometimes you get bunched up and you takeaway space from the guy with the puck. … Our spacing was better tonight.”
Last week, the Detroit chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association nominated Eaves for this season’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication.
Eaves missed the final 4 ½ months of last season after he was struck in the head by a slap shot that resulted in a broken jaw and months of rehabilitation for post-concussion syndrome. He finally returned to the lineup earlier this season.
“I felt great out there,” he said. “We knew they had a very good fourth line and I watched them last year go to the finals and I thought that was a big reason, their depth up front. So we knew that we had a challenge on our hands. I just thought as a whole, Toots and Emmer and I played a solid game.”
The fourth liners were rewarded for their efforts when Tootoo tipped Eaves’ slap shot from the high slot that beat Quick at 5:42 of the third period. Tootoo’s goal, his third of the season, gave the Wings their two-goal cushion.
“I tried to get a quick shot on net. Toots got a stick on it,” said Eaves, who had gone 15 games without a point. “Those high tips are really hard for goalies to pick up on. I got a lot on the shot so it was moving when he tipped it.”
With the win the Red Wings took possession of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoff race, leaping ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were idle Wednesday night.
“We’re doing things right and playing with a great sense of urgency as we have to," Eaves said. "We have to get these points or we’re not going to be playing next week. We just have to keep winning. That’s all we can do.”
THREE STARS: 3, Gustav Nyquist, DET (5 shots, 3 takeaways); 2, Pavel Datsyuk, DET (1 goal, 1 assist); 1, Patrick Eaves, DET (1 assist, 4 shots).
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