After coaching his team to a Gold Medal victory in the Olympics, head coach Mike Babcock looked well prepared upon his return behind the Detroit Red Wings’ bench. The Red Wings entered the break with control of the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference, but few points separated them from the rest of the pack in the standings.
Detroit had 17 days in-between regular season games when they took the ice in Montreal to face the Canadiens on Wednesday night. Montreal entered the night six points ahead of Detroit in the Atlantic Division. With captain Henrik Zetterberg expected to miss about two months after a herniated disc forced him to withdraw from the Olympics, Babcock had to mix up the lines once again.
The Red Wings’ offense sputtered at times in their 2-1 overtime victory over the Canadiens. Todd Bertuzzi opened up the scoring with a goal in the first period but the Wings were kept off the board for the remainder of regulation. Brian Gionta tied up the game with 29 seconds remaining in the third period as the two Original-Six opponents were headed to overtime.
Just as the game looked like it was destined for a shootout, Gustav Nyquist carried the puck out of his defensive zone and up the right-wing boards with under a minute left in the overtime period. As he entered the zone, Nyquist dropped a pass to Danny DeKeyser who fired a wrist shot through traffic in front of the net. After a re-direction from Johan Franzen, Nyquist buried the rebound into the back of the net with just 27 seconds left on the clock.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard, who did not spend any time in net for Team U.S.A in the Olympics, stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced.
The Wings continued their road-trip on Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators, their fourth and final regular-season matchup. The previous three games had all been won by the visiting team and Detroit looked to continue that pattern in order to even up the season series.
Detroit’s offense showed no sign of an Olympic-hangover as they scored four goals in the first period, two of which by Franzen. Franzen’s first-period goals were sandwiched between goals from Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco. Franzen completed his hat-trick in the second period before the Senators even got on the board. Following a goal from Bobby Ryan, which made the score 5-1, Tomas Tatar scored the game’s final goal with 15 minutes to play in the second.
Jonas Gustavsson got the starting-nod in goal for Detroit and looked impressive in his 38-save performance.
Despite the back-to-back victories, Detroit is sill trailing four teams in their division. The Red Wings’ 68 points on the season has them in control of the second wildcard spot, three points ahead of the Washington Capitals.
One concern for the Red Wings moving forward is the health of Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk played phenomenal for Team Russia in the Olympics but has already missed significant time this season and is now fighting through a knee injury. Datsyuk did not play in the third period on Thursday for precautionary reasons.