SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Detroit Red Wings leave the West Coast in a lot better shape than they arrived a week ago.
Pavel Datsyuk stole a bad pass from Ryane Clowe and turned it into the first of three goals for Detroit in the second period, and the Red Wings went on to beat the San Jose Sharks 4-1 Saturday night.
The Red Wings have won four of five, including three of four out West against some of the top teams in the conference. With wins against Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose, Detroit has closed within one point of the Kings for eighth place in the Western Conference.
“We know that the points are so crucial for us right now,” defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Every point is important. That’s one of the reasons we’re extra pleased with the way we finished the trip, beating one of the top teams in our conference.”
Detroit got Dan Cleary and Henrik Zetterberg back from injuries on the trip and Cleary has delivered two goals in two games. The Red Wings did lose leading goal-scorer Tomas Holmstrom to a broken foot in practice Wednesday, but are in good shape to get rolling in the next month before the Olympic break.
“It’s hard to gain ground,” defenceman Brad Stuart said. “You have to keep winning. This was an important trip for us. We can go back feeling pretty good about it. But we can’t sit back and enjoy it too long because we’re right back out Tuesday.”
Patrick Eaves and Darren Helm also scored for Detroit, which will finish the five-game trip Tuesday night against the New York Islanders. Jimmy Howard made 31 saves.
Patrick Marleau scored his NHL-leading 29th goal in the first period for the Sharks, who have lost two of three following an eight-game winning streak. San Jose allowed 10 goals in the two losses, including six to Los Angeles on Monday.
“They did a lot of simple things to score four goals against us,” coach Todd McLellan said. “They were disciplined. For some reason our team thought we had to play fancy and take risks. We haven’t learned our lesson.”
San Jose appeared to be in good position after Marleau’s goal off the rebound of a shot by Dan Boyle. The Sharks were 17-1-3 when they scored first. But the Red Wings took control in the second, taking advantage of poor play by the turnover-prone Sharks.
It started when Clowe made a bad pass as he skated across the Detroit blue line. Datsyuk came up with the turnover and skated in alone the other way before beating Evgeni Nabokov with a wrist shot from the circle to tie the game early in the second.
That marked the second time that a Sharks turnover at the Red Wings blue had led to a Detroit breakaway. Nabokov stopped Cleary in the first period but couldn’t do the same to Datsyuk.
“We needed to manage the puck better and control the turnovers,” Clowe said. “If you know anything about hockey you know why we lost. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a good team but it was us, not them, tonight.”
The Red Wings took the lead when Eaves deflected Doug Janik’s shot from the point past Nabokov for his fifth goal of the season. Nabokov immediately pleaded with the referees that Eaves deflected the puck with a high stick but the call was upheld on replay, giving Detroit the 2-1 lead with 5:07 left in the period.
Just 69 seconds later, Cleary got his goal when he patiently waited for Kent Huskins to slide by after dropping in an attempt to block the shot before beating Nabokov with a wrister. It was Cleary’s second goal in two games since missing 12 contests with a shoulder injury.
“Obviously he’s a real good player for us,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We need to get him healthy and rolling. When Z and him get skating and playing like they can, we’ll be a lot better hockey club. He scored a big-time goal.”
Helm’s goal early in the third ended any comeback hopes for San Jose. He intercepted a clearing attempt by Boyle and skated in to beat Nabokov for his fifth goal in five games.
NOTES: Sharks F John McCarthy, a seventh-round pick out of Boston University in 2006, made his NHL debut. … With 37 games to go, Marleau is nine goals shy of his career high of 38 set last season. … Lidstrom has gone 41 straight games without a goal, seven shy of the longest drought in his career.