- The Detroit Red Wings lost the plot on Oscars night, surrendering a 1-goal lead and ultimately digging a 3-goal hole for themselves en route to a 4-1 loss against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday evening.
Detroit suffered its 3rd straight loss and 6th in their last 8 games, and now the Red Wings head to Boston to play the Bruins on the heels of two very mediocre efforts by Jimmy Howard and the skaters in front of him.
The strangest part of Sunday night’s game is the fact that Luke Witkowski’s fight with Nick Seeler ignited the home team, which scored 2 goals in 2:53:
It was Seeler exacting revenge in the second period for Witkowski almost putting Zach Parise on the operating table with a dangerous knee-to-knee check the Wild winger narrowly avoided at the last second.
“It could have been ugly, really ugly,” Parise said. “Luckily, I got out of the way.”
The play enraged Seeler. It is about time someone in a Wild jersey took umbrage with an injustice. That element of toughness that has been glaringly missing from the franchise since Derek Boogaard was jack-hammering jaws a decade ago.
By the time Seeler and Witkowski exited the penalty box after five minutes, the Wild had erased a 1-0 deficit on goals by Eric Staal and Parise that jolted the bench to life and carried them to an easy win over the goal-starved Red Wings.
“I just thought, good time to step up,” said Seeler, the Eden Prairie native playing in just his 11th NHL game. “It was still 1-0. You never really know how the guys are going to respond but, thankfully, we came out with a couple quick goals after that, and it was nice to see.”
Seeler was left with a small cut on the bridge of his nose and his left cheek was red and swollen, but you won’t hear him bemoaning the price paid.
The throwback scrap was the talk of the Wild dressing room after the team snuffed a two-game losing streak from its dispiriting trip to Arizona and Colorado.
“I just think both teams were shocked,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk, who made 28 saves for the win. “I haven’t seen a fight like that in a long time. That was nuts.”
According to Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, the fight sparked the Wild, as he told the Star-Tribune’s Sarah McLellan:
“Guys were on the bench and they were saying, ‘We gotta go now. If we can’t get motivated for this, then we’re in trouble,’ ” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Soon after, the Wild found the equalizer on the ensuing power play when Staal deflected in a Jared Spurgeon throw toward the Detroit net 7 minutes, 22 seconds into the second.
It was Staal’s eight goal in his past seven games and his 34th on the season, which is tied for the fourth most in the NHL; the goal also moved Staal into a tie for the third-most goals in a single season by a Wild player.
Only 2:53 later, and on the Wild’s very next shot, the team moved ahead of Detroit when Parise’s one-timer off a feed from Mikko Koivu sneaked past goalie Jimmy Howard.
Nino Niederreiter’s assist on the play was his 200th career point.
“You never really know how the guys are going to respond, but thankfully we came up with a couple quick goals after that,” Seeler said. “It was nice to see.”
More than execution, the Wild finally had energy that was missing from its play in the first period — a ho-hum beginning that helped Detroit build an early lead. Just 3:58 into the first, a blocked shot by defenseman Nate Prosser caromed to winger Justin Abdelkader, and he fired the puck by goalie Devan Dubnyk.
The Red Wings could have pulled away even more. They outshot the Wild 11-5 in the period and had a chance on the power play. But its lack of finish kept the door open for a Wild rally that included two third-period insurance goals from Zucker.
MinnesotaWild.com’s Dan Myers sang Seeler’s praises, as did Seeler’s teammates…
“[Matt Dumba] and [Jared Spurgeon] are very offensive and can make some unbelievable plays,” said Wild forward Jason Zucker. “Everyone knows [Ryan Suter] and [Jonas Brodin]. So for a D like that to be a little bit more aggressive and gritty and be able to fight like that is impressive.”
While Nate Prosser has been counted on to bring that defense-first mentality, and is perhaps the best shot-blocker on the team, Seeler has shown a willingness to go into the crease and physically remove opponents from his goaltender’s ice.
It’s an aspect that doesn’t show up in the box score but earns major points in a dressing room.
“I think definitely in that area, I think I can help out,” Seeler said. “I pride myself on being tough in front when I can and when it presents itself. There were a couple of times tonight where it presented itself. Just trying to clear lanes for [Devan Dubnyk] I think, he needs to see the puck so that’s what I’m trying to do.”
With nine minutes left in regulation in a one-goal game, there was Seeler scrapping in front of his own goal and clearing those lanes, battling with Detroit veteran Darren Helm. First he took a stick to the face, then a slash, then a — let’s just say, unkind — stick to the midsection, drawing a penalty.
It’s that willingness to do the dirty work that has earned Seeler a spot in the every night lineup for a team currently sitting rather comfortably inside a postseason spot. It’s also what’s earned him the quick respect of his teammates and the trust of his head coach.
“It is a different element for us,” Parise said. “It’s important to have those guys that clear the crease a little bit, a little sandpaper in front of the net, cross-checking. Those guys are really appreciated around the locker room, they block shots. I think he’s fit in really well for us.”
But NHL.com’s Jessi Pierce noted that the Wild, who are fighting for their playoff lives, feel that Sunday night’s literal and figurative fight bolstered the team’s chances of keeping ‘er going:
“When we play our game, we can dominant. We can overwhelm teams,” Dubnyk said. “It’s not anything special, it’s not Harlem Globetrotters stuff. It’s just how good we compete when every single line plays hard and plays the right way, and that’s the group that we have in here. We have to trust that and understand how important every game is and make sure we’re ready to do that at the start every night.”
Justin Abdelkader scored for Detroit (26-29-10, 62 points) which lost its third straight game. The Red Wings are nine points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
“We aren’t finding ways to win right now, we’re finding ways to lose,” Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said.
Zucker scored twice in the third period to help seal the win for Minnesota. He made it 3-1 at 15:42 when he redirected Mikael Granlund‘s feed from the right face-off circle before scoring an empty-net goal at 16:22.
“[March] is not an easy month for us, and I think you could tell in the first period there were guys that didn’t have a lot of jump,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But they willed it out of them just to get through the game.”
For the Red Wings, cliches matter, as campy as that might sound, and coach Blashill was preaching a Babcockian line after the game…
“It’s an easy time for frustration to build up and there’s nothing wrong with being frustrated now, and [we] should be. If you’re not, you probably shouldn’t be a competitor. We’ll have to regroup tomorrow and understand there’s not one thing we can do about it except learn from it and be better on Tuesday [at the Boston Bruins] and find a way to win. Winning games is important, and we’ve got to find a way to win Tuesday.” — Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill
And the AP’s game recap will serve as the pivot point between the Wild and Red Wings’ perspectives:
“The guys were on the bench and they’re saying, `We got to go now. If we can’t get motivated for this, then we’re in trouble,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. “It was a real opportunistic time when I think we were really flat.”
Less than three minutes later, Parise completed a tic-tac-toe passing sequence with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle to put the Wild up 2-1. Minnesota showed plenty of life in the second period after managing just four shots on goal in the first.
“I think that’s a big goal in the game, especially in that one, but we can’t look back on the result,” said Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg. “At the beginning of the game we played well. I thought we had a good start, good first period, got the first goal and then they score two quick ones.”
Zucker added a pair of goals less than a minute apart, including an empty-net goal with 3:38 to play. He also redirected a pass to give Minnesota some breathing room with a 3-1 lead with 4:18 remaining.
Justin Abdelkader scored for Detroit off a rebound at 3:58 of the first period to open the scoring.
The Red Wings had a good look at an open net and a potential tying goal midway through the third after Dubnyk was caught out of position behind his goal. Tyler Bertuzzi had a shot, but Spurgeon managed to get in front of the puck to keep it a one-goal game.
Three straight losses and dropping 6 of 8 of late yields a Red Wings team that’s weary of speaking the same old lines to the media, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted:
“We played a real good first (period), we expected them to make a push, then they scored on the power play and another, and it’s kind of snowballing,” forward Frans Nielsen said. “For a while, it seems like we score, give up two. We can’t play afraid of anything because they get one. We have to keep playing on our toes.”
Zucker redirected a Mikael Granlund shot at 15 minutes, 42 seconds, and added his 27th at 16:22, putting it into an empty net with goalie Jimmy Howard pulled for an extra attacker.
The first Zucker goal, Howard felt he should have had.
“It went directly in,” Howard said. “I’ve let in worse than that, it’s just unfortunate it went in. I made a mistake tonight and it’s unfortunate for us.”
Howard hasn’t been very good for the past two games, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Jared Coreau start on Tuesday.
Kulfan had his own theory as to why the Red Wings weren’t able to use the 2nd period fight as a spark:
The Red Wings couldn’t respond. Mainly because offense continues to be an issue.The Red Wings scored one goal twice in the last three games, and haven’t scored more than three since Feb. 11, a stretch of 11 consecutive games. There’s a lot of pressure defensively, and on the goaltender, with those numbers.“We’re getting some chances, it’s just a bounce here or there,” Abdelkader said. “We’re just not finishing on them. Goals are a funny thing. Sometimes when you see the puck go in, it’ll give that confidence. But until we start scoring more, it’s just one of those things. Just continue to get pucks and bodies to the net.”
“For the most part we’re playing good hockey, but we just have those periods over a few minutes and it seems like teams are punishing us for it right now,” Frans Nielsen said. “It’s tough. We have to learn to be that team, too, that once we get a little momentum, or they turn the puck over or whatever, we have to take advantage of it.
“We played a really good first period. We did expect them to come out and make a push and be better. It’s just kind of snowballing on us — every time we give up one, we give up two. We can’t play afraid of anything. We have to keep playing on our toes.”
Coach Blashill did not fight his team’s “compete” level…
“We competed extraordinarily hard so I’m not going to bang on our guys,” he said. “We made a mistake there but they made mistakes, too. We competed hard for the totality of the game. I’m proud of our guys for, after another tough loss the other night, picking themselves up and competing. We’re going to have to do the same thing against Boston.”
“I thought we went into the hard areas and tried to score dirty goals,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “There were a few pucks laying right there at the goal line. But, it’s natural to squeeze your stick a little bit when you’re not feeling it. We’re not finding ways to win right now. We’re finding ways to lose.”
As difficult as this stretch is for the team, it’s an opportunity especially for young players to learn. Blashill liked what he saw Sunday from Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou.
“I thought Dylan Larkin was excellent,” Blashill said. “He played from the right side of the puck. He competed extremely hard. He made a couple big mistakes in the first but I don’t care about that — if he plays with that kind of mentality, he is going to be a great, great player in this league. I thought AA competed really hard.
“We have to keep doing it right. We have to do it right over and over and over again, and that’s what this league is. And the superstars are the ones that do it right all the time. We have young guys that want to be that, then that you have to make sure that’s how you act. They certainly have a good leader in Zetterberg to follow.”
Among DetroitRedWings.com’s Dana Wakiji’s “trending” recap’s points:
Justin Abdelkader: The Wild came into the game outscoring opponents 60-45 in the first period. But at 3:58 of the first, Justin Abdelkader drove into the slot and buried a rebound of Jonathan Ericsson’s shot for his 11th goal of the season. Dylan Larkin picked up the second assist, his team-leading 39th. Ericsson returned after missing one game due to illness. It is Abdelkader’s first career goal in 21 games against Minnesota. Abdelkader also has four more goals in 58 games than he had in 64 last season.
Quotable: “That’s how it goes. That’s the game of hockey. We gotta continue to go to work each and every day. Games are running, and at the same time we’re going out and we’re gonna have to play hard each and every game. It’s a league where you’ve got to continue to prove yourself each and every game, no matter where you’re at in the standings or what’s happening ahead of you. We gotta continue to do the right thing and play the right way. I have no doubt in the group in here. We’ve shown a lot of fight this season. We can’t get down. You gotta learn from your games and your experiences and try to build off those and get better. I think we’ll continue to do that and hopefully goals will start going in for us.” – Abdelkader
Abdelkader has been more involved in most every game that he plays these days, and that is a credit to the 30-year-old forward’s understanding of the fact that he’s wearing an “A” on his sweater for a reason…
And I sure hope that he’s right, because there are 17 games left, and this team at least has to learn some frickin’ positive lessons from what will probably be more losses than wins.
Highlights: NHL.com posted a 4:43 highlight clip…
The Free Press’s Helene St. James posted a clip of Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader and coach Jeff Blashill speaking with the media:
Photos: The Free Press posted a 17-image gallery;
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune posted a 7-image gallery;
ESPN posted an 11-image gallery;
Here’s the Game Summary…
And the Event Summary:
The final shot attempts were 56-54 Minnesota, despite Detroit’s 29-27 shot advantage.
Red Wings notebooks and also of Red Wings-related note: Of note from Hockeybuzz’s Bob Duff:
In 1969, the band Three Dog Night hit the Billboard top 10 by proclaiming One Is The Loneliest Number in song.
For the 2017-18 version of the Detroit Red Wings, one is proving to be the unluckiest number. Twenty-nine times this season, the Wings have been involved in a one-goal outcome. On 20 occasions, they’ve come out on the wrong end of that equation.
“I think we’re right up there for most in the league,” goaltender Jimmy Howard assessed to Detroitredwings.com of their one-goal losses, and he’d be right.
Only the Ottawa Senators (21) and Buffalo Sabres (21), like the Wings tenants of the Atlantic Division, have dropped more one-goal games this season. Detroit’s 10 regulation one-goal losses are tied for third-most in the league, and their 10 overtime or shootout failures leave them tied for the sixth most in that department.
“I think we’re all frustrated by the way it’s unfolding,” Howard said. “We’ve got to find a way to win games, not lose them.”
Detroit’s last five losses and eight of the Wings’ last nine setbacks were all one-goal verdicts.