GLENDALE, Ariz. – In the last three weeks, the Red Wings’ power-play unit sparked the offense, particularly away from Joe Louis Arena, lifting the team to five wins in the last six road games. Not a bad statistic heading into Thursday’s crucial game with the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena.
And things seemed to follow the recent trend as the Wings scored on the power play in the opening two-minutes of the game. However, things went south rather quickly in the second period when mistakes and bad line-changes led to the Wings’ demise.
“That was a bad period for us,” proclaimed captain Henrik Zetterberg. “I think we started the game good. We did a lot of good things and then we turned the puck over a little too much in the second and they took advantage of that.”
Despite scoring two power-play goals Thursday, the Wings were badly out-played in the middle frame and never recovered. Phoenix scored three goals in the second – out-shooting Detroit 20-5 in the period – en route to handing the Red Wings a sobering 4-2 loss.
The Wings benefited early from their hot special teams unit, which had scored at least a goal in six of the last seven road games, including two just last week in a 3-2 win over the Coyotes last week.
Valtteri Filppula kept the power play unit’s hot streak going with a goal at 1:56 of the first period. It was just his second power-play goal of the season, after scoring seven over the last two seasons. It was also the earliest power-play goal that the Wings have scored on the road this season.
Detroit has scored at least one power-play goal in seven of the last eight road games, which is a far contrast from where the special teams unit began the year. The unit is now 9-for-29 over the last eight road games after a 0-for36 start in the first 10 road games.
But the power play ran out of gas in the second period, coming up empty on back-to-back chances when Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris earned a pair of minor penalties in the middle of the period. And matters were made worse when former Wings forward haunted his old team with his second-period forechecking, which resulted in his first goal of the season.
Chris Conner, who grew-up in Westland, Mich., and played eight games for his hometown team a season ago, helped jump-start the Coyotes’ three-goal second period, which was all the goals that the home team really needed. His goal at 8:08 of the second period gave the Coyotes a 2-1 lead.
“I think they made a great play and certainly there was a little more motivation there,” said Conner, of playing against his former team. “I have to carry that into every game and I had a couple other chances to score a couple of more goals. … My linemates played great tonight, so they helped me out.”
The Wings had a second crack at getting another first-period power-play goal, but they couldn’t get another past backup goalie Chad Johnson, who was a late substitution in goal when Jason LaBarbera was held out of the lineup with flu-like symptoms.
While the power play gave the Wings an early lead, it was also partly to blame for the team’s second-period collapse.
“I really thought our undoing was on the power play,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It wasn't that we didn't do much on the power play, it's that we got caught out at the end of both power plays for long, long shifts and they ended up scoring on one. In the end they tilted the rink on us and the fact we didn't execute and didn't get it behind them and didn't do the simple things we had done in the first period so well.
“So we got to give them credit but we're disappointed in ourselves. We didn't feel we had the kind of second period that our team is capable of. … You got to be better with these opportunities we have right now and tonight's one we let slip away.”
Trailing 3-1 with less than two-minutes remaining in regulation, Daniel Cleary popped in a power-play goal when Jimmy Howard was pulled for an extra attacker. But it was a case of too little, too late for the Red Wings, who now have 11 games remaining with five teams within three points of them in the standings.
“We just got to look forward,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We have to find a way to get back to our game, skate, get back pucks, get out of our zone and get through the neutral zone. Put the puck deep and go to work. We didn't do that enough times tonight.”
THREE STARS: 3, Chris Conner, PHX (1 goal); 2, Mikkel Boedker, PHX (2 assists); 1. Chad Johnson, PHX (34 saves, W).
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