Back Down To Earth

All hockey players learn that lucky bounces are fickle things. They also learn that a ready, excited team with faith in its goaltender is much more difficult to play against than less-prepared teams starting a young backup goalie because the regular starter isn’t under contract yet. All the bounces that helped the Red Wings on Thursday night went against them on Saturday night, and they took their first loss of the season from the inspired Los Angeles Kings, 3-2.

The Kings got a very lucky break only twenty-seven seconds into the game. Nick Lidstrom attempted to send the puck around the back of the net. Instead, the puck hit one of the stanchions which hold the glass together and bounced back out front, right to the stick of Jason Allison. Allison was then able to slap the puck into the net past Curtis Joseph.

Detroit had a very good power play and a chance to tie the game when Ziggy Palffy was sent to the penalty box for obstruction holding. Even so, the full two minutes plus sustained pressure by the Grind Line directly afterwards were ineffective against Felix Potvin, who proved to be, as he so often does, a thorn in the sides of the Red Wings’ forwards.

The Red Wings got their first goal with 6:45 left in the period. Pavel Datsyuk set up a short pass to Brett Hull, who was already moving up the right wing side. Meanwhile, Kris Draper streaked up the left side, unseen by the Kings’ defense. Hull passed across, Draper got his stick down, and Potvin dove to make the save, but the puck hit the post and went back into the net.

Los Angeles pulled back in front soon enough. Ian Laperriere came up with the puck after a scrum in the left corner of the Detroit zone and sent it to the front of the net. Brad Chartrand was there waiting all alone, and he put it past Joseph for the goal.

With just under three minutes remaining, a double minor for high sticking was called against Jiri Fischer, putting him into the box for four minutes. The Kings capitalized on their power play just after the first two minutes had gone by. Jaroslav Modry fired a hard shot from the blue line. The puck bounced off Joseph and out to Allison near the high slot, and he one-timed the shot into the net.

The Wings came out more organized in the second period. They had two more power plays with excellent offensive pressure, but again, Potvin kept the shots away, and the score remained 3-1 after two periods.

Detroit came back within one point early in the third period, during a power play. Sergei Fedorov passed from the middle of the blue line up to Igor Larionov at the right side of the net, and Larionov centered a pass for Brett Hull. Hull one-timed the shot through a screen of players, and Potvin had no chance to see or stop it.

The Kings shut down defensively even more then, giving the Red Wings little chance to get the puck towards the net. As time was becoming a factor, and Detroit seemed ready to pull out all the offensive pressure they could find, penalty disaster struck. First, Larionov was handed a two minute penalty for holding. Then, just a few seconds after that penalty expired, Fedorov accidentally high-sticked Mathieu Schneider and cut him, which is an automatic four-minute double minor. This incident, coming with 3:24 remaining, essentially negated any chance the Wings had to set up some offensive play. They did manage to get enough control of the play to pull Joseph for the extra skater, but there were less than thirty seconds remaining by then, and that just wasn’t enough time.

Joseph stopped twenty-three of twenty-six shots he faced, while Potvin stopped twenty-seven of twenty-nine. The Red Wings will wrap up their West Coast trip Sunday night against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

This was Igor Larionov’s 800th game in the NHL.

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