The Detroit Red Wings snapped their brief two-game losing streak against the lowly Edmonton Oilers on Monday night.
The first period was dominated by the Oilers, as they outshot Detroit 14-7. This allowed them to take the early lead just 2:15 into the contest as Rob Klinkhammer snuck a shot through the five-hole of netminder Jimmy Howard.
The team woke up in the second stanza, scoring twice in the middle frame. Niklas Kronwall struck first on the power play with help from Erik Cole (his third assist as a Wing, all power play assists) and captain Henrik Zetterberg.
When asked what the message was in the locker room, Teemu Pulkkinen said “We talked about that we have to play harder. We didn’t have a good start. I think they were out-shooting us 9-0 after ten minutes, so it’s not good, but after the first break, we came back hard and I think we played really good the last forty minutes.”
Later in the period, Riley Sheahan was the recipient of a slick cross-crease pass from Gustav Nyquist. Sheahan wasted no time potting the goal to give his team the lead. Pulkkinen recorded the secondary assist on the play.
Pulkkinen would score a goal of his own in the third period when the puck landed on the blade of his stick. He quickly wristed it to the top left corner past Ben Scrivens to extend the lead.
“I can’t really remember what happened,” said Pulkkinen. “I just remember I got the puck and tried to shoot it right away. I think it was great pass.”
However, the Oilers would record 17 shots to Detroit’s 9 in the final period, giving the Wings all they could handle.
Edmonton’s Nail Yakupov scored on the power play with 1:55 to play to make it a one-goal game. It was only one of four power play opportunities that they would have in the third.
After a strong push in the game’s final two minutes, Justin Abdelkader was fed a pass right to the crease where he was waiting to redirect it into the empty net. Pavel Datsyuk would add a second empty-netter from a long distance that managed to hit both posts before crossing the goal line. 5-2.
It was a great game for the young finish sniper Pulkkinen, who is currently in his third call-up stint with the parent club after dominating the AHL. In 46 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins, he has scored a league-leading 34 goals and 61 points. Even while playing as many as 14 games fewer than the other scorers in the top ten, he has managed to hold that lead.
“We have a great team there (in Grand Rapids), a great coach and great teammates,” said Pulkkinen, “so going there, it’s kind of easy to come back because the system is kind of the same. Guys are playing hard there and the team is doing really good, so it’s great hockey there too.”
With all the call-ups and send-downs, you would think that would take a toll on a young player’s game, without the ability to settle in and play with the same linemates consistently. However, he hasn’t let that affect his game.
“I just want to play hockey and win games. This is all about winning here. In the American League too, just win games and enjoy the game. There’s not that much games left anymore, so it should be fun to play the rest of the games and just enjoy the hockey.”
When asked what the main difference is between the two leagues, he said “Guys are stronger here. I have to play hard every single game, every shift. That’s the biggest thing and that’s what I’m doing all the time.”
“He’s got such a great shot,” said Howard. “I think the more and more he plays, the more comfortable he’s getting out there and he’s finding open spots to be able to get his wicked snapper off. It’s great to see. He’s a great kid. He works extremely hard and it’s great to see his hard work pay off.”
Mike Babcock has been very impressed with the play of Teemu.
“He’s dominated, totally dominated the American Hockey League, obviously he’s ready for the next level. He’ll figure out here how not to check himself. He’s used to being able to drift around and find space and there’s not as much space [here]. So he’s got to learn to find his space. Once he does that he’ll become a real good player.”
“I think the good thing about him is he’s just a dimension. He wants to shoot the puck. He wants the puck. He’s a talented kid. And suddenly Sheahan’s line is scoring, so that’s good for us.”
Pulkkinen was named the game’s first star, and his strong performance helped the Red Wings secure an important two points with only 17 games remaining in the schedule.
They continue to gain ground on second-place Tampa Bay, winners of three straight. The Lightning have 88 points but the Wings have two games-in-hand on Steve Yzerman’s team.
Detroit will have two days between games, with the next game taking place on Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets (58 points).
Of the remaining 17 games, eight are against teams not currently in a playoff spot while six are against teams in the top-three in their division.