DETROIT, Michigan -- He looked a little awkward at times, and his timing was definitely off. But yes, it really was Steve Yzerman out there on the ice at Joe Louis Arena, winning nine of the fifteen faceoffs he took (important) and (more important) inspiring his team on to a 5-4 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.
The Red Wings were perhaps buoyed by the fans'excitement at the Captain's return, because they definitely dominated the first period of play. Los Angeles goaltender Jamie Storr was sharp in the net, but Brett Hull finally put one past him as the period was winding down. Nicklas Lidstrom shot the puck deep into the right corner, and it bounced off the boards and out just past the goal line. Hull took his shot from a very tight angle. It didn't look like a particularly good scoring chance, but the puck slid between Storr's legs and in for the goal.
Igor Larionov increased the Red Wings' lead early in the second. Brendan Shanahan passed from behind the net to Sergei Fedorov, and Fedorov sent the puck across the goal crease to Larionov. Larionov put the puck in high from right in front of the net.
The Kings got to go on the power play shortly after that, when Maxim Kuznetsov was sent to the box for holding the stick, and Mathieu Schneider was able to put his team on the board. He shot the puck from the blue line after taking a pass from Zigmund Palffy. Manny Legace was screened by both Lidstrom and Bryan Smolinski, and wasn't able to see the puck on its way through.
Kirk Maltby and Tomas Holmstrom put the Wings back out front before the period was over. Maltby's goal resulted from a tangle of players in front of the Los Angeles net. Storr didn't cover up the puck, and it squirted free to Maltby, who put it over all the bodies for the goal. Holmstrom's power play goal came less than two minutes later. Hull's shot bounced off Storr's chest. Holmstrom came around from the back of the net hoping to pick up the rebound, but as he skated, the puck bounced off his skate blade and into the net. The goal was reviewed by the officials, who determined that Holmstrom had not kicked the puck in.
The Kings didn't give up, and the Red Wings' defense started to break down a little. Ian Laperriere was allowed to get right up in front of the net with no one to cover him. When Aaron Miller sent the pass through, Legace was able to stop the first shot by Laperriere, but the second one went high and out of Legace's reach.
The late period goal energized the Kings, and they came on strong in the third period. Legace made some very strong saves, but the onslaught finally broke through with just 6:52 left to play. Laperriere and Eric Belanger got through on a 2-on-1 break. Kuznetsov dropped down to take away the passing lane, but Belanger's shot deflected off the big defenseman and up into the net.
Fedorov put the Red Wings ahead for good just as a slashing penalty to Yzerman had expired. Fedorov got the puck through center and up to Shanahan, who left the drop pass just inside the Los Angeles blue line. Fedorov picked up the puck, tipped it past a Kings' defenseman, regained it, and backhanded it past Storr.
Derek Armstrong added one more goal for the Kings with 2:06 left in the game. They pulled their goalie to send in an extra skater in the last minute, but the Red Wings tightened up and came out with the win.
The final count of shots on net was 31-30 in Detroit's favor. The Red Wings play next on Thursday evening, when their Original Six rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs pay a visit to the Joe.
Notes: Holmstrom's goal was his 17th of the season, setting a new personal best record.... League Standings at the three-quarter mark of the season: In the East, the #1 Senators would play the #8 Lightning, the #2 Devils would play the #7 Bruins, the #3 Capitals would play the #6 Islanders, and the #4 Maple Leafs would plat the #5 Flyers. In the West, the #1 Stars would play the #8 Oilers, the #2 Canucks would play the #7 Wild, the #3 Red Wings would play the #6 Mighty Ducks, and the #4 Blues would play the #5 Avalanche.