DETROIT – Gaining momentum in hockey is almost like battling for loose pucks – it’s a 50-50 proposition.
At least that’s how it’s seems lately for the Red Wings, who have struggled with energy since returning home from a six-game road trip through the Western Conference last month.
“I think in this game it was tough to get momentum, to get it going,” Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We had a pretty good start. We got that first goal. Every time
we got the puck down in their end we created a lot of chances, but there were too many times when we were one and done.”
In reality, the Wings’ offense was one and done Thursday, losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-1, at Joe Louis Arena.
Despite jumping out to an early lead, the Wings were unable to sustain enough energy to keep it going against the Blue Jackets. Meanwhile at the other end, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made some huge saves, stopping 41 shots in the game. But he saw most everything the Wings fired his way as his teammates did a good job of clearing lanes for him to see.
“They were playing really tight in front of the goalie,” Zetterberg said. “We threw a lot of pucks at him. We had almost 50 shots tonight, but we’ve got to bear down when we get
the good chances. If we do that we have a chance to win.”
The Wings looked out of sorts at times, firing shots wide of the net, passes weren’t as crisp, special teams were out of sync, and turnovers and collapses in defensive-zone coverage led to pucks getting behind Jimmy Howard, who made 23 saves.
“Obviously we’re not finding a way to win enough games right now, so we don’t look in sync or fluid, if that makes any sense to you,” coach Mike Babcock said. “So anytime that’s the case you’re not executing as a group. When you don’t execute as a group you don’t look fast.”
Short of a four-minute power play – when Luke Adam was called for high-sticking Tomas Jurco – the Red Wings looked as discombobulated as they had in the two previous first periods this week against Boston and Edmonton. They’ve been out-scored 5-2 in the past three first periods.
A bright spot for the Wings came on their first power-play chance when Justin Abdelkader collected his 18th goal of the season to put Detroit up 1-0 at 7:40 of the opening period.
The Red Wings’ league-leading 60th power-play goal of the season was set up by defenseman Marek Zidlicky and forward Gustav Nyquist. It was Zidlicky’s third point in five games since the trade that brought the 38-year-old veteran to the Wings more than a week ago.
Zidlicky’s blast from the blue line first struck Jackets center Mark Letestu in the high slot before it reached Abdelkader, who also deflected shot while parked in front of Sergei Bobrovsky.
But the Wings were unable to covert again on the power play, finishing the game at 1-for-6 with eight shots on the man advantage.
Despite an edge in overall shots during the first and third periods, the Wings weren’t able to maintain momentum from their early lead as the Jackets scored even-strength goals on consecutive shots in the first by defenseman Fedor Tyutin and forward Scott Hartnell at 12:24 and 16:24, respectively.
“We had opportunities early,” Babcock said. “I thought our opportunities dried up as the game went on. I thought they competed harder, they boxed out harder. I didn’t think we got to the net, even though we had shots, I didn’t think we had the same quality of chances late.”
Columbus extended its lead in the second period when Cam Atkinson scored on the power play. It was the eighth straight game which the Wings’ penalty kill has allowed a goal.
The Wings’ penalty kill has now allowed at least one goal in each of the past eight games, going 22-for-31 on the kill – that’s 71 percent, which is far below their 81.7 percent season average.
“We can’t give up one a game on the penalty kill,” Babcock said. “We count on our specialty teams. We had a chance on the power play tonight too to get back in the game and we couldn’t get it. You got to give them credit for that, too. I thought we had a real good plan and we were executing it real well and then we made a mistake and it was in our net, so the bottom line is you got to get stops. The penalty kill, as you get close to the playoff time becomes more and more important, so we just got to continue to keep working on it. Anytime you’re in a dry spell in any part of your game you just keep working and digging in.”
Even Zetterberg was stymied by the Jackets’ goalie in the second period. Trailing 2-1, the Wings’ captain had the tying goal lined up as he circled the net, and he had Bobrovksy out of position on a wraparound attempt. However, as Zetterberg maneuvered around the far side of the cage the puck skipped for a millisecond giving Bobrovsky enough time to recover and make a stretching toe save against the post.
Columbus is now 9-2-1 in its last dozen meetings with the Red Wings. And the schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Wings, who have back-to-back games in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh this weekend.
Detroit has lost nine straight road games in regulation to the Flyers, dating back to March 14, 1998.