Tonight, the Red Wings saw their season best 5 game winning streak snapped on home ice against a team that has struggled at the Joe in their 20 year history. Tonight’s win gave San Jose something like a 6-30 record in Detroit since their inception in 1991. It was a pair of players riding hot streaks that got the job done for the Sharks late in the game to give them the win.
Red Wings 3 Sharks 4
Antti Niemi was the NHL’s first star last week, and he showed it wasn’t a fluke tonight. He had a very solid game between the pipes for San Jose, and made the game saving stop on Johan Franzen in the slot with time winding down and the Sharks barely clinging to a one goal lead.
In the end, they would hold on to the lead, thanks in large part to the two goals of Devin Setoguchi. Setoguchi’s pair gives him 5 goals in the last two games, including the game winner in both contests. In his last 4 games, he has 6 goals, or more than a third of his offensive output for the entire season. Seto scored 31 goals in his first full season in the NHL (2008-2009), and seems to be finding some of that touch again.
He was set up for both of those tallies by one of the league’s best passers, Joe Thornton. I’ve always had a hard time embracing Thornton as a pure playmaker, mainly because he’s so damn big and it’s easier to picture him bull-rushing to the net and scoring with two guys draped on his back than it is to imagine him feeding a saucer pass cross ice onto a teammate’s stick. The fact is that the numbers don’t lie, and Thornton is regularly among the league leaders in assists. He won’t be there this year unless he has an unholy final quarter of the season, but the ability is still there.
Speaking of players who have been putting up a lot of assists, tonight Jiri Hudler added two more – the primary assists on both of Danny Cleary’s goals – which pushed his season assist total to…23!
I know what you’re thinking…when the HELL did that happen? Is this the same guy that had 10 points a month and a half ago? He turned it around in January, but he really has started to light it up since being put on a line with Datsyuk and Cleary. He has at least one point in every game since then (9 points in 6 games), and has become a completely different player. In fact, the player he has become is the player the Wings thought they’d have all season, the Jiri Hudler of 2008-2009 when he put up 57 points.
When he came back from Russia, coach Babcock stated that he thought Hudler could hit somewhere between 60-70 points, which may not be that crazy of an assumption when you figure he would be two years further in his development from his 57 point campaign. The year in Russia really seemed to take a toll on his game though, and he struggled to find any consistency. Now that he has found some confidence, some of the skill that was always there hiding beneath the surface has boiled over and resulted in his recent hot streak.
As it is, Hudler will likely crest 40 points this year, and look to parlay a strong finish into a better start to the 2011 season. Some food for thought, though: if you take Hudler’s point per game average from January and February and extrapolate it to a full season, he would hit 70 points on the number. Just something to think about…
One guy who has more than exceeded expectations is the aforementioned Danny Cleary. Newfie hit his career high in goals tonight when he potted his 21st of the season (he’d previously hit 20 twice with the Wings in 2007 and 2008). Injuries slowed him in 2009 and 2010 to just 14 and 15 goals, respectively, but off-season surgery this past summer has done wonders for him.
It took him until November to really start putting points up, but that can be at least partially attributed to his playing on a line with Hudler, whose struggles early on were already documented, and Mike Modano who didn’t really get used to playing with his new teammates until right before his injury. I thought right from game one of the season, a 4-0 shut out of the Ducks, that Cleary looked miles faster than he did last year, and it is great that he is being rewarded with the results and ice time to show for it. At this point, he is on the very short list for most improved player (more on that at another time).
One last game note before moving on to the stars: I thought Jimmy Howard had a solid performance tonight. He really didn’t have a “4 goal game”, if you know what I mean. He made TWELVE saves on the penalty kill in the FIRST PERIOD. That’s insane. The final Sharks power play chance did result in their first goal, but it was a screen point shot where Jumbo Joe was parked in front. Not too many people in the business can control him when he’s set down his anchor there. Ryane Clowe‘s goal was the result of Jonny E not looking where he was shooting, and Guchi wired a couple of nice shots past him. 39 saves in a losing effort means you faced way too much rubber. He has been much stronger lately, and I don’t think this is a step back in the slightest. Look for him to put up another strong effort on Thursday against Dallas.
The Off Wing View’s Three Stars
3. Danny Cleary 2G – Both goals came from driving hard to the net. Everyone else take note.
2. Devin Setoguchi 2G, GWG – His goal at 13:12 of the third period sealed the game for San Jose.
1. Joe Thornton 1G, 2A – Even in a down year, Thornton has the ability to dominate games.
Filed under: Game Recaps, General, MI-NHL, SNN-NHL, Sports Nation Network · Tags: Antti Niemi, Danny Cleary, Devin Setoguchi, Jimmy Howard, Jiri Hudler, Joe Thornton, Jonathan Ericsson, Mike Babcock, Mike Modano, Ryane Clowe