While the snow fell like mad in Detroit, and the rain fell in Washington, DC, the puck kept falling into the net. Five different Red Wings contributed a goal each to give the team a 5-1 win over the Washington Capitals.
The Capitals were decidedly overmatched against this Red Wings team which seems to be improving more and more each game. In spite of having six power play chances, Washington only managed to get eighteen shots on net””six in each period””past the suddenly stingy Detroit defense. “Our defensemen played really well down low, especially on the penalty-killing,” Luc Robitaille commented. “I think it surprised them.”
Mathieu Dandenault opened the scoring midway through the first period after sustained pressure in the Washington zone. Nicklas Lidstrom caught a rebound and sent it to Igor Larionov behind the net. Larionov passed it out front to Sergei Fedorov. Fedorov couldn’t shoot because what looked like all five of the Capitals’ skaters lined up to block him, but Dandenault was wide open near the left circle. The pass went across, and Dandenault’s one-timer blasted past goalie Olaf Kolzig.
The Red Wings increased their lead just 15 seconds later on a bad turnover by none other than superstar Jaromir Jagr. Apparently, Jagr did not study the scouting reports on Pavel Datsyuk. Jagr, the last man back trying to clear the puck, tried to outdeke the forechecking Datsyuk, but Datsyuk picked the puck off as easily as if Jagr hadn’t been there at all. He put the puck high under the crossbar for the goal.
The Capitals had a chance to gain back some momentum before the period was over. For the third game in a row, the Red Wings were forced to kill off a 5-on-3 penalty. Again, Lidstrom picked up the second penalty, and again, Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper, and Chris Chelios did an incredible job of protecting Curtis Joseph.
Rick Berry tried to take out some of his frustrations with a hard hit on Fedorov, but before too long, Brendan Shanahan was out to show Berry why that was a bad idea. The two had an honest, gloves-dropped, helmets-off, fists-flying fight before the linesmen finally broke them up.
Joseph played well on the shots he did face, playing like his old self, the confident goalie the Wings were glad to acquire from the Maple Leafs instead of the uncertain netminder he seemed to be through the month of January. “Once the puck did get through, Curtis was there””large and big,” Dave Lewis said in praise of his starting goaltender. “It was a frustrating game for them, I’m sure,” he added.
Tomas Holmstrom added a goal midway through the second. Draper’s hard work struggling with a Washington player along the boards forced the puck free to Maltby in the high slot. Maltby passed up to Holmstrom near the front of the net, and Holmstrom beat Kolzig high on the short side for his 16th goal of the season, tying his career-best record set in the 2000-01 season.
Sergei Gonchar spoiled Joseph’s shutout bid just past the halfway point of the third period. He came in through the high slot area and one-timed a pass by Robert Lang. Joseph was screened by Fedorov and didn’t really have a chance to see the puck coming at him.
Robitaille and Draper rounded out the scoring as the game drew to an end. First, Datsyuk made another interception just inside the Washington blue line, gracefully got around two big defensemen, and made a pass to Robitaille near the side of the net. Robitaille’s shot went right between Kolzig’s pads for his third goal in the past four games. Next, Dandenault intercepted an attempted Washington clearing pass, tipping it just enough to deflect it over to Lidstrom, who shot the puck on net. Kolzig made the save, but Draper got the rebound and put it in high.
Joseph made 17 saves on the 18 shots he faced, giving him a 94.4% save percentage. Kolzig’s 28 saves on 33 shots equaled a less-than-impressive 84.8% save percentage.
The Red Wings play next on Monday evening, when they face the Los Angeles Kings at Joe Louis Arena.
The two points the Wings earned in the standings tonight, coupled with an overtime loss by the St. Louis Blues this afternoon, move the Red Wings back into first place in the Central Division. Detroit and St. Louis each have 76 points, but Detroit has one game in hand and 32 wins to the Blues’ 31.