The Detroit Red Wings entered Saturday night’s contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins as the 3rd-worst team in the National Hockey League, sporting an unimpressive 17-19-6 record (40 points). Only Colorado (5) has fewer home wins than the Wings (7). Still, the Atlantic Division door is still open, as the gap between second and last was nine points as of Saturday, nothing a five-game winning streak wouldn’t fix.
It was the first home game for Red Wings netminder Jared Coreau.
“I tried not to think about it too much,” he said. “I was a little shaky at first. I think that first [goal] was something I could definitely have back and make a save on, but after that I just settled in. It felt really good, really exciting.”
The game began poorly for Detroit, as Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang wristed a high shot past the blocker shoulder of Coreau 27 seconds in on only the game’s second shot.
Early in the second period, the Penguins struck again as Evgeni Malkin received a pass from Carl Hagelin in tight before quickly depositing the puck through the five-hole.
However, this two-goal deficit near the game’s midway point would prove to be manageable for the Wings as they quickly recovered with goals of their own.
The first came from Gustav Nyquist, as he one-timed a shot from Xavier Ouellet’s pass past Marc-Andre Fleury. The second resulted from a backhander by Thomas Vanek after Justin Abdelkader fed the puck to the slot.
Soon after, an Abdelkader slashing penalty led to a power play goal for Pittsburgh. Matt Cullen scored with 2:04 remaining in the middle frame. It was actually put in by Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, but Cullen touched the puck last in front of the net.
Before the second ended, Mike Green demonstrated a perfect slap pass as he promptly moved the puck from the blueline to the stick of forward Frans Nielsen. Nielsen redirected it past Fleury for Detroit’s first lead of the game.
At the 1:46 mark of the final stanza, speedy forward Andreas Athanasiou showed his puck prowess as he went end-to-end, skating right through the defense for an incredible goal. It was an unassisted effort and the Red Wings’ flashiest goal of the season.
“It’s a big goal,” said coach Jeff Blashill. “It’s a big goal kind of out of nothing. The one thing double-A has is the ability to break people down and score on his own. He obviously took it end-to-end and scored the goal on his own. It’s hard to score goals in this league, and when you get somebody who can self-create and do it on his own, it’s a big thing.”
Pittsburgh nearly tied it at four as it appeared that David Warsofsky had scored, but a successful challenge by Blashill overturned the on-ice call after replays showed Malkin pushing Abdelkader into the crease. This was the turning point of the game.
The Wings had a 1:30 two-man advantage later in the period (0 shots), but they managed to score with two seconds remaining on the latter penalty. Mike Green added to the lead, wristing a shot past Fleury in the high slot.
“Greener has been our number one defenseman throughout the year until he got hurt there,” said Blashill. “So, that’s a big piece of your puzzle that was missing there for a stretch of time. I think he’s still getting his game back to the level he was when he left. Having him in the lineup is a real positive and I think as he continues to grow his game, being back in after missing quite a period of time, I think he’ll be even better for us.”
Captain Henrik Zetterberg would add a sixth goal for good measure 1:23 later, sealing the 6-3 victory. Anthony Mantha entered the offensive zone by passing the puck along the boards, retrieving it and passing cross-crease to Nyquist, who passed to Zetterberg in the slot. This was preceded by an incredible sliding save by Coreau at the other end of the ice.
The win moves Detroit from 8th to 7th in the Atlantic Division (42 points). The Tampa Bay Lightning sit 6th with 44 points.
A Look Ahead
Detroit takes to the ice Monday afternoon at 3:00 ET to face the Montreal Canadiens.
Wednesday vs. Boston Bruins (8:00)
Friday @ Buffalo Sabres (7:00)