Two of the top four seeds in the NHL took the ice tonight in Detroit, Michigan. When the dust settled, the team from the West was victorious in a hard fought, tightly contested battle. It really was an incredible game from start to finish, so join me to break down all the excitement after the jump.
Red Wings 3 Capitals 2
The Capitals came in red hot, despite battling through a myriad of injuries. Their top two centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Arnott, #1 defenseman Mike Green were the notable absentees, but they did get number one goaltender Michal Neuvirth back from an eye injury. In his place, rookie tender Braden Holtby filled in admirably and was named the NHL’s first star last week.
The Wings seemed to have a scouting report in place on Neuvirth that showed a weakness up high on his catching glove side. They looked like they were trying to handcuff him with pucks shot from sharp angles over his left shoulder. Henrik Zetterberg hit the crossbar on one such chance early in the game, but he was successful on the game-winner.
On a Red Wings power play about halfway through the third, Zetterberg drove the net from the right side of the ice. He then lifted a backhander up and over Neuvirth for his second marker of the game.
Zetterberg had channeled his inner Brett Hull on his first goal, scored in the first period. About 7 minutes into the game, he dropped to one knee to blast a one-timer on net that was saved by Neuvirth. On his next shift, he took a delay of game penalty. His next time out saw him make good on his second knee drop slap shot, burying it on the Rafalski dish.
It was Rafalski’s first game back after missing 8 with back spasms. He showed almost immediately how important he is to the Red Wings, assisting on all three Wings goals, and in general contributing to the Wings being able to get the puck out faster from their own zone. Rafalski is so underrated and under-appreciated by the general public, but tonight his star shone bright.
This game was the first and only match of the season for the Wings and Capitals, and a rare chance for fans in Detroit to see the incredible talent that is Alexander Ovechkin. For the fans of his that were in attendance – and trust me when I say there were hundreds there – he did not disappoint.
His goal through the legs of Brad Stuart was an absolute rocket of a wrist shot that is going to wind up in, if not through, the net 99 times out of 100.
Every time he handled the puck inside the Wings zone, I was on the edge of my seat. There are very few players that inspire that kind of genuine terror, but he is definitely one of them.
His numerical opposite on the Red Wings, Justin Abdelkader, had a fantastic game. He is now playing on the third line with Mike Modano and Valtteri Filppula due to what must have amounted to a Mike Babcock hunch.
Despite Darren Helm having nearly double the points of Abdelkader, I’d say that Abdelkader is the more naturally skilled offensively of the two. Putting him with two very good puck handlers like Flip and Mo allows him to fill the “net front presence” role on that line. Instead of needing to anchor the fourth line and play all two hundred feet of ice, he can concentrate on wreaking havoc in front of the net and digging pucks out of the corner.
Tonight, he was in front causing a distraction when Filppula tipped in the Wings second goal. He had a handful of quality scoring chances himself. He also drew the penalty to Mike Knuble that led to Zetterberg’s game-winning goal. The impressive thing to me was that the penalty was drawn in the Red Wings defensive zone, nearly 200 feet from Washington’s net. How did Abdelkader draw the penalty? Winning a puck battle and keeping his feet moving. Check mark for him.
Couple of scary moments for the Wings, including Jiri Hudler going awkwardly into the boards then heading to the dressing room clutching his wrist. Jonathan Ericsson limped around for a bit but finished the game looking no worse for the wear, and Henrik Zetterberg had a puck swatted back into his face shortly before scoring.
Danny Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi, Zetteberg’s wingers, both were very strong along the boards and finished all of their checks tonight. I was especially impressed with one Bertuzzi shift in the first period where he pasted a couple of Capitals into the boards.
The Off Wing View’s Three Stars
3. Justin Abdelkader +1, 4 SOG, 14:58 TOI – The former MSU Spartan looks more than comfortable in his new role on a scoring line
2. Brian Rafalski 3A, +2 – The Wisconsin grad was a key player in all three Wings goals tonight.
1. Henrik Zetterberg 2G, GWG, 7 SOG – The future captain had one of those games where he put the team on his back. He’s unstoppable when he plays like he did tonight. Oh, and by the way…told you so.
“The Red Wings Henrik Zetterberg has now gone 5 games without recording a point. I think he is on the verge of going on one of his patented streaks where he carries the team to victory for a stretch of games, based on how he played the last couple of nights.”