LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Although captain Nicklas Lidstrom struggles to explain it, the Red Wings’ play in February improved as their distance from Detroit increased.
Way out on the West Coast, the Wings wrapped up the month by thrashing another Western Conference playoff contender.
Drew Miller scored twice, Darren Helm added a short-handed goal in the third period, and Detroit rolled to its sixth straight road victory, 7-4 over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night.
Pavel Datsyuk, Danny Cleary, Jiri Hudler and Lidstrom also scored for the Red Wings, who pulled within three points of conference-leading Vancouver with back-to-back road wins after consecutive home losses. Jimmy Howard made 35 saves as the Red Wings pulled away with seven consecutive goals, including three in the first period.
The Wings went 7-1 on the road and 2-4 at home in February. If they could just figure out a way to stay out of Joe Louis Arena, the Wings seem capable of winning a banner to hang in it.
“I don’t know how it’s working out this way, but we’re playing really well on the road,” Lidstrom said. “We’re getting some bodies back, guys that have been out with injuries for over a month. … We knew where they are in the standings, and they’re a desperate team. I thought we played a lot better in our own zone tonight.”
Detroit began its final lengthy road trip of the season in Buffalo on Saturday, and will visit all three California teams before wrapping up in Phoenix. With their usual cheering sections behind them at every stop, the Wings haven’t lost on the road since Feb. 5.
“We keep it really simple (on the road),” said Howard, who signed a two-year, US$4.5 million contract earlier in the day. “We don’t try and overdo it, or get too fancy. We just play a simple game, and it pays off.”
A few hours after acquiring goal-scoring forward Dustin Penner in a trade with Edmonton, the Kings put on their worst performance in over a month.
Michal Handzus scored in the opening minutes for the Kings, but they didn’t score again until captain Dustin Brown’s goal cut Detroit’s lead to five goals with 7:34 to play.
Wayne Simmonds and Brad Richardson scored in the final 65 seconds for the Kings, but Jonathan Quick gave up six goals on 23 shots before getting pulled with 14 minutes left. The flop was a surprise for Los Angeles, which had lost in regulation just once since Jan. 20 while winning 11 of its past 15.
“After a game like this, you just forget about it,” said Kings defenceman Jack Johnson, who went to Michigan. “They’re a great team and they’ve got world-class players—some of the best players in the world on one team. Not to take anything away from them, but the first goal went in from the goal line, and a couple of shots went through traffic and got in. It was just one of those nights.”
The Red Wings got a measure of revenge for a 5-0 home loss to Los Angeles on Dec. 13, their fourth straight loss to the Kings. They also did it without leading goal-scorer Johan Franzen, who’s home with his wife for the expected birth of their first child.
The Kings still haven’t lost by more than three goals all season, but they struggled mightily against one of the four teams ahead of them in the conference standings.
“That’s a good hockey club,” Kings coach Terry Murray said. “They’re on a tough trip right now … and they’re coming to play. That’s a veteran team that knows how to do things right at a critical time of the year, and they’re making a big push to get on track for the playoffs. They scored goals at the right time and gave us a real lesson here tonight in being ready to play hard, to play smart and to play intelligently in a road game.”
The Kings scored just 4:09 into the first period when Handzus corralled a rebound off the back boards and flipped it over Howard’s pad during a power play, but the Red Wings quickly took charge.
After Miller scored his first goal in three weeks on a stoppable shot, Cleary followed 30 seconds later with an artful deflection in front for his 22nd goal. Detroit then went up 4-1 with 41.2 seconds left in the second period when Datsyuk collected a puck at the blue line, skated in unimpeded and fired an expertly placed shot over Quick’s glove for his 19th goal.
Helm scored after Drew Doughty failed to control a puck at the point during a power play, sending many Kings fans to the exits with 18 minutes left.
After Miller and Hudler put the Wings up 7-1, Brown finally answered for the Kings to sarcastic cheers.
“We didn’t compete hard enough to even deserve to score whatever amount of goals we scored,” Brown said.
NOTES: Mike Modano had an assist on Lidstrom’s goal in his second game back from a three-month, 41-game absence with a cut on his wrist from an errant skate. The top American-born scorer in NHL history played in just his 22nd game of his first season with the Red Wings. … Penner is expected to arrive in Los Angeles on Tuesday, and could play Thursday against Phoenix.