UNIONDALE, N.Y. – An early two-goal lead didn’t bring pleasurable results to the Red Wings Sunday night on Long Island.
Tomas Tatar and Drew Miller provided Detroit with a 2-0 lead 106 seconds into the game, but it wasn’t nearly enough against the playoff-bound New York Islanders.
In a wild and wacky first period, six goals were scored on a combined 10 shots before the teams reached the 10-minute mark.
“It was a different starting game and it’s not often that it’s for both teams. Usually it’s one team,” Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “The first period was sloppy from both sides. A lot of goals, a lot of funny bounces there, but it was pretty even for both teams.”
The Islanders scored four specialty-team goals, including two in the second period, to out-distance the Wings, 5-4, at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The Wings’ special teams were problematic, especially the penalty kill that went 1 for 4. The Islanders also scored a short-handed tally for the game-winner.
“We’re fighting through it but the blame game never helped anyone ever and so we’re better off if we just keep on grinding and don’t worry about that,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We got to stay the course. We know we got good structure. We know we got a good team. Let’s stay the course and look after things.”
Detroit’s quick goals were over shadowed by the Islanders’ version. New York struck three times in a 5:01 span on consecutive goals by Brock Nelson (PPG), Ryan Strome and Kyle Okposo (PPG).
Down a goal, defenseman Niklas Kronwall got the equalizer for the Wings, scoring his ninth goal of the season on a one-timer in the slot from a pass from Pavel Datsyuk (PPG, assist).
Petr Mrazek, who made 23 saves in a big 4-0 win over Tampa Bay Saturday, started his second game since replacing Jimmy Howard last Thursday. Howard allowed three goals on 10 shots to San Jose one game after allowing five goals on 22 shots to Arizona last Tuesday.
But Mrazek didn’t fare well after Detroit’s 2-0 lead. He surrendered four goals on 11 shots, not making it beyond the opening minute of the second period. Frans Nielsen’s power-play goal at 16 seconds ended Mrazek’s day.
It’s the third time this season that the Wings’ PK has allowed three goals.
“Short side, I have to be there,” Mrazek said. “I thought I had it but I don’t know if it hit a piece of my stick or something and went in. I should have that one.”
Howard took over in net, making 15 saves on 16 shots.
The Islanders built a 5-3 lead in the second, capitalizing on Tatar’s turnover at the far blue line on a Wings’ power play. Cal Clutterbuck scoped the puck, skated the length of the ice, and deking Howard before sweeping a shot into the open net at 3:57.
Howard said last week that he needed to work on tracking the puck, something he believes that he did well on Sunday.
“I felt better. I focused on the puck, nothing else,” he said. “Didn’t matter if there were guys in front of me, I was just finding them. That’s why I’ve had success in the past and what I need to do now in the future.
“It’s just putting in the work. When you put the work in every single day in practice and you battle in the games it becomes easy, so it’s just one of those things where you got to keep working hard in practice.”
Fast starts have been missing from the Wings arsenal, so Sunday’s quick start was a lift to their confidences, especially coming on the heels of Saturday’s strong team performance in a 4-0 win over Tampa Bay.
“At this time of year when we are where we are we want to win every game,” Zetterberg said. “We don’t do that now. The good thing is we score a lot of goals but we are letting in too many. We’ve just got to find a better balance. We all now we’ve got some big games here coming up this week and we’re looking forward to them.”
The Wings, who are in third place with 92 points, have upcoming home games against two teams chasing them in the Atlantic Division standings. Ottawa (86) visits Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday, followed by Boston (89) on Thursday.
“It’s playoff games,” Zetterberg said. “We did that last year, we did that two years ago. We had those games to win our way into the postseason. It’s nothing different this year. You always want to play in the playoffs and now we’ve got a chance to do it a little earlier.”
The Red Wings went the first 66 games without losing back to back in regulation. Now they haven’t put together back-to-back wins in their last 13 games.