VANCOUVER – The Detroit Red Wings have the hot hand in NHL shootouts this season.
Pavel Datsyuk and Jiri Hudler scored shootout goals, and the Red Wings padded their lead over Vancouver in the Western Conference standings with a 4-3 victory against the Canucks on Thursday night.
Detroit has won all six of its games decided by that tiebreaker and it’s just building more confidence.
“When you’ve won a few in a shootout you’re a confident bunch,”captain Nicklas Lidstrom, adding that confidence starts with Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard and spreads to the shooters.
“Howard’s been playing real great for us and guys have been confident coming in on our shootouts.
“We’ve been switching it up a little bit, having different guys go but guys have been very confident going in there.”
Datsyuk and Hudler both beat Canuck netminder Roberto Luongo on the stick side.
Howard had an easier time as he smothered Alex Edler’s attempt when the Vancouver shooter got in too close and forced Mason Raymond to lose control of the puck.
Detroit (35-16-1) won for the ninth time in 10 games to move four points ahead of Vancouver (31-15-5), which has a game in hand.
It was also the fourth win in the last four road games for Detroit, which is now 15-14-0 away from home after struggling away from Joe Louis Arena earlier in the season.
The Canucks closed out a six-game homestand spread over the all-star break with a 3-3 record.
Drew Miller, Hudler and Dan Cleary gave the Red Wings one-goal leads as Detroit moved five points clear of Nashville in the competitive Central Division.
Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Raymond forced overtime for the Canucks who were outshot 43-25 after 65 minutes.
The Wings jumped on the Canucks early and only Luongo’s acrobatics kept Vancouver close.
“We got taken to school,”said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault who split up twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin in some line juggling to start the third period.“It was obvious to everybody.”
“Obviously, we can play a lot better. That’s no secret to anybody that knows our team. Tonight, the best team on the ice was obviously, by far, Detroit.”
Nudging a point ahead of a conference rival because of the shootout win was not lost on the Wings.
“That’s six critical points when you look at it,”Cleary said of Detroit’s dominance in the tiebreaker.
“Shootouts are important, not something we take for fun. If you look at it at the end of the season, those are important points–win or lose.”
While Hudler scored his fourth goal in three games and the decisive goal in the shootout, Miller counted after a giveaway allowed Burrows to give the Canucks a 2-2 tie midway through the third period.
“I just told myself I’ve got to get out there and make a difference,”said Miller who broke a 17-game goalless drought Tuesday in a victory in Calgary.
“I guess scoring a goal is the best way to do that. You want to get that goal back for your team.”
Cleary was playing despite having a cyst on the back of his knee treated at a local hospital on Wednesday but it didn’t stop him from stickhandling in on Luongo for the opening goal.
“It was a little sore as the game went on,”said Cleary who is facing more treatments.
“It’s sore right now but, to be honest with you, it’s easier skating than walking.”
Both Cleary and Lidstrom expect the Wings to keep improving on the road.
“The thing I like is we’ve got a good goaltender and great balance in lines, we’ve got a good game plan and we’re a disciplined team,”Cleary said.
Lidstrom, who has played on great Detroit clubs in the past, said skill helps but there’s plenty of grit on these Wings.
“We’re a very solid group,”Lidstrom said.
“We’re not a faster team that scores nice goals all the time. We can grind it out and stay with teams and get wins that way too.”
Kesler said it was one of those games where the Canucks just couldn’t generate offence.
“You have to take the positives out of it,”said Kesler. “We obviously fought through a lot.
“We’re down twice, three times in the game, and battled back every time and got a point out of it, which was important.”
Luongo, who robbed several Wings on break-ins, said a slow start is part of the peaks and valleys of a long season.
“You don’t want this to go on forever obviously,”he said after his first start in nine days.
“We know we’re a much better team than that and good teams find ways to perform, especially in big games like that.
“Even though we didn’t have our best game tonight, I thought we found a way to get a point.”
Notes: The teams conclude their season series Feb. 23 at Joe Louis Arena … Winger Chris Higgins was out of the Canuck lineup with the flu … Andrew Alberts drew in as a seventh defenceman … Howard, who got the day off from practice on Wednesday, made 25 saves when the Wings blanked Vancouver 2-0 on Oct. 13 … Datsyuk was also allowed to skip the practice after he and Howard participated in the all-star weekend … Tomas Holmstrom was back in the Detroit lineup after sitting out Tuesday’s 3-1 win in Calgary with soreness in both knees after injections last week.