DETROIT – What a defensive struggle it was Monday night between a pair of old playoff rivals.
The red-hot San Jose Sharks strolled into Joe Louis Arena with their 4.88 goals and 40-plus shots per game – both NHL-bests – in tow, but the Red Wings had a plan to shut them down.
Through 65-minutes both teams battled to a scoreless tie with very little time in space for any of the usual scoring suspects like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Logan Couture and Joe Thornton.
“We play a similar game. Todd (McLellan) took, I think, Babs’ system over to San Jose so it was kind of like we were playing against each other,” Red Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey said. “We knew what they were going to bring and they knew us inside out, so it was kind of just a battle of wills and it was a fun game with battles in the trenches. Really, not too much came out of it.”
The Sharks eventually seized two-points in the standings when Couture scored the lone goal in the shootout. San Jose (8-0-1) remains the only team in the league to not lose a game in regulation this season.
“It was one of those games for a goalie where they’re even more difficult to play in because one screw up can cost you the game,” said Jimmy Howard, who made 27 saves in recorded his 17th career shutout.
Prior to Monday, the Sharks hadn’t been shutout in consecutive periods all season. But the Red Wings managed to keep the visitors in check, holding the Sharks to 19 shots through two periods.
It also helped that Detroit’s young defensemen were active in the shooting the lanes, collecting 11 of the team’s 14 blocked shots, including a game-high five by Quincey. Rookie Danny DeKeyser also had three blocks, and Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff each had one.
Playing without their most experienced defensemen – Niklas Kronwall (concussion) and Jonathan Ericsson (birth of first child) – much was made of the young players who were expected to slow down the Sharks’ skilled forwards. And they did a tremendous job, limiting San Jose to a season low for shots.
“Those young D did a good job for Howie, they never gave up anything,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “All in all they had a good night.”
Rookie Xavier Ouellet, who was making his NHL debut in place of Ericsson on Monday, was the only Wings’ defensemen not to register a blocked shot, though that was OK with Babcock.
“He made lots of good plays,” Babcock said. “Those guys had tough matchups. You go through it, their top three centers are in the top 10 scoring in the league. You got good matchups no matter who you’re playing with, (Joe) Pavelski, Thornton or Couture, those are good players.”
But overall, Howard thought the young defensemen were magnificent because everybody communicated well on the ice.
“They kept it simple, if something wasn’t there they weren’t afraid to go off the glass and out,” Howard said. “Lots and lots of talk. I was trying to talk to them all night long, even when they were out there in defensive-zone coverage, telling them to widen it out or to get in there and help or just eating the puck along the boards. But they did a great job out there for us. We’re going to need them.”
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