SAN JOSE, Calif. – It’s been an agonizing five weeks – in more ways than one – for Drew Miller.
Miller returns to the lineup tonight after having his lower jaw fractured in a game against the Arizona Coyotes last month. He had surgery on Dec. 5 to insert two metal plates.
“I’m looking forward to getting back in the lineup,” said Miller, following Thursday’s morning skate at SAP Center. “Definitely not the funniest thing to watch the team play and not be a part of it. You want to be out there competing and playing with your team. I’m looking forward to it.”
Miller, who missed 14 games, draws back in the lineup against the San Jose Sharks, who have won just five times at home this season.
The Red Wings’ penalty kill heavily depends on Miller, who is a tenacious shot blocker and a solid positional player on special teams. Detroit’s PK struggled in Miller’s absence, surrendering 13 goals (.711) in that stretch. Prior to Miller’s injury, the PK was humming along with an. 837 efficiency rating, killing off 72 of 86 shorthanded opportunities.
“I think when I watched our penalty kill when I was out I thought the guys did a great job,” Miller said. “Sometimes the puck just goes in the net. So there’s nothing like I’m going to step in and be like ‘oh that guy did a bad job’ and I’m the one who’s going to come in and change the whole percentage and get it better. I just want to play my role and do what I do, bring what I bring to the team. I think I can help on the penalty kill.”
For at least a few games, Miller is required to wear a full protective face shield, which is similar to the one he wore last season after he was accidently cut beneath the eye.
“I’ve been skating, so it’s not like I’ve been off. I have good conditioning so I feel ready to go from that standpoint. Mentally you’ve got to get out there and give a few hits, take a few hits, make some plays. Kind of feel your way back in but make it quick.”
Danny DeKeyser’s role isn’t to score much. In fact, his first-period goal Thursday was just the ninth of his career, in 193 NHL games.
But the goal that gave the Red Wings an early lead was far and away the prettiest in his time since joining the Red Wings in 2013.
As captain Henrik Zetterberg wheeled through the neutral zone, DeKeyser joined the rush getting himself open on the left wing. Once over the blue line, Zetterberg slid a pass to DeKeyser who got behind a Sharks defender and whistled a shot that beat goalie Martin Jones high to the glove side.
Dylan Larkin picked up a secondary assist on the scoring play, giving him 28 points in 40 games this season. He is now tied for 24th on the Wings’ all-time rookie points list with Henry Boucha (1972-73) and Bill Lochead (1974-75).
But the lead didn’t last very long as the Sharks evened the score 1:31 later on Joel Ward’s tip that Petr Mrazek likely never saw. The scoring play was set up by a Sharks’ faceoff win to the left of Mrazek. San Jose cycled the puck up to the blue line where defenseman Brent Burns fired a shot from the point. Ward, who was battling with Alexey Marchenko in front of the crease, managed to get his stick on the puck, deflecting it into the top of the net.
The Sharks had two power play chances when Luke Glendening went to the penalty box twice in a 3 ½ minute span. But San Jose failed to convert on either opportunity as the Wings’ penalty killers held the home team to just one shot.
It certainly was a wide open period with the teams combining on 28 shots through the first 20 minutes.
DETROIT 1, SAN JOSE 1
SCORING: 1. DET, DeKeyser (Zetterberg, Larkin) 9:16; 2. SJS, Ward (Burns, Vlasic) 10:57.
PENALTIES: 1. DET, Glendening (high sticking) 14:28; 2. DET, Glendening (holding) 18:09.
SHOTS: Detroit 12, San Jose 16.
With the exception of a few offensive burst, the second period was far different than the first 20 minutes as both teams did a better job of locking down in the neutral zone.
The Wings were held to six shots in the period, including two from Pavel Datsyuk. The other shots came from Larkin, Justin Abdelkader, Tomas Tatar and Mike Green.
The best scoring chance for the Red Wings came late in the period when Tatar threw a pass out from the wall to Datsyuk who was all alone at the top of the slot. The Russian sniper had time in space to get off a quality shot but the puck hit Jones in the crest.
Moments later, the Wings went on their first power play of the game when Dainius Zubrus was called for holding Marchenko with 1:14 left before the second intermission. Detroit had one shot in the close seconds, a 64-footer by Green, which Jones easily handled.
There’s still 46 seconds remaining in Zubrus’s minor, which carries over to the start of the third period.
DETROIT 1, SAN JOSE 1
PENALTIES: 1. DET, Larkin (tripping) 3:02; 2. DET, Smith (roughing) 14:47; 3. SJS, Hertl (slashing) 14:47; 3. SJS, Zubrus (holding) 18:46.
SHOTS: Detroit 6 (18), San Jose 10 (26).
The Sharks managed to kill off the remaining 46 seconds of Zubrus’s penalty.
Larkin seemed to find another gear early in the third when he used Paul Martin as a screen before firing a shot between the defenseman’s legs that nearly fooled Jones.
With under 13 minutes to go, Mrazek was tested when Matt Nieto sent a knuckleball of a shot from the right point that the goalie adjusted on late and had to make a blocker save.
About seven minutes later the Red Wings got the big break they needed when Mrazek made a monumental save on one end that then transpired into a game-winning goal at the other.
From a scrum in front of the Wings’ crease, Mrazek batted the puck out of the air with his stick paddle denying Ward a second goal of the night that would have given the Sharks their first lead of the night.
As the play moved up ice, Abdelkader raced to the top of the slot where he took a perfect pass from Datsyuk and wired a shot under Jones’s right arm, giving the Wings a 2-1 lead at 13:08.
The Sharks called a timeout with 32.4 seconds remaining, but they couldn’t muster an answer for the job that Mrazek did on them in their own building.
Mrazek was simply spectacular at times tonight, making 35 saves, his fourth highest save totals of the season for his 14th win. His won 16 games as a rookie last season.
The victory was also the Wings’ 25th one-goal win of the season (16-3-7). They won 41 one-goal games last season.
DETROIT 2, SAN JOSE 1
SCORING: 1. DET, Abdelkader (Datsyuk, Ericsson) 13:08.
PENALTIES: 1. SJS, Pavelski (interference) 17:07; 2. SJS, Thornton (roughing) 20:00; 3. SJS, Thornton (10-minute misconduct) 20:00.
SHOTS: Detroit 7 (25), San Jose 10 (36).