The Detroit Red Wings finished the calendar year with a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night. The Penguins had just lost in a shootout to the Toronto Maple Leafs the night before, and Detroit had a day off after Tuesday’s contest.
However, it did not appear that the Penguins had lost a step after a spirited affair in Toronto. The Red Wings took an early two-goal lead on goals by Justin Abdelkader and Brendan Smith. Both were the result of hard pushes to the crease. Tomas Jurco flicked the puck around the boards in the offensive zone with the puck making contact with the protective netting, but the play would continue. The Penguins cleared, but Detroit returned to score the goal.
The second goal was the result of a great individual effort by the defenseman Smith. Smith deftly managed to keep the puck inside the blueline and proceeded to deke a Penguins forward out of position, allowing Smith to take a shot in close. It was his third of the year, set up by Gustav Nyquist and Alexei Marchenko.
Things began to unravel early in the middle frame. Just 45 seconds into the period, Patric Hornqvist notched a power play goal 31 seconds into a Penguins man-advantage. Hornqvist was standing in front of Wings netminder Petr Mrazek, and the puck was actually kicked in by the pad of Mrazek. The play would be challenged by coach Jeff Blashill, as he believed there may have been goalie interference, but the challenge would prove unsuccessful and Detroit forfeited their timeout.
Just past the midway mark of the second, the Penguins scored again on the power play, this time only needing 30 seconds to find the back of the net. Letang was the scorer with assists from the other two participants of the first goal, Evgeni Malkin and Hornqvist.
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby identified the pair of goals as the turning point for his team.
“Probably those power play goals, to get everything even going into the third,” he said. “We probably would have been happy just cutting the lead in half, but to get two and allow ourselves to go out there and win a period and win a game was big, and that’s exactly what we did, so it was nice to get rewarded for that.”
Early in the third period, Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta pushed Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar into Pittsburgh netminder Jeff Zatkoff. It appeared that his leg bent a weird way, and he would make a visit to the bench before returning and finishing the game.
Sidney Crosby scored his ninth of the season at 7:48 and Evgeni Malkin scored 34 seconds later to make it 3-2 and 4-2.
Letang would seal the victory with an empty-net goal with 1:40 left and the Wings dropped their third consecutive game.
“In the end, whoever scores for them, that part is irrelevant,” said Blashill. “I just think as a group we needed to play better in those situations. Going back into the second period we needed to play better in those situations. We weren’t good enough.”
The Wings’ power play went 0-for-3 on the night and 1-for-11 in the three losses.
“There were moments on the power play, especially in the second period there where I thought the power play was real good,” said Blashill. “The problem isn’t tonight’s power play necessarily, it’s the cumulative effect of the last three games.”
It will not get any easier for Detroit, as they now have six straight road games and eight of the next eleven.
Note: Tomas Jurco left Thursday’s contest with an upper body injury and is unlikely to play in the next game.
The trip begins Saturday in Buffalo. Game time is set for 1:00 ET.