LOS ANGELES – There’s a reason Chris Osgood is the starting goalie for the Western Conference in the all-star game.
There’s quite a few, actually. Osgood improved upon his league-leading wins total and lowered his league-best goals-against average by making 27 saves to help the Detroit Red Wings blank the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 Tuesday night.
“I’m just working hard in practice and doing the little things to stay sharp in practice so you’re not second-guessing yourself in the game,” said Osgood, who shaved his goals-against average down to 1.87 with his 46th career shutout. “I’m just playing and having fun and not thinking too much. It’s that simple. I think I’m a lot calmer now that I’m older (35), so I’m just going out and enjoying it more.”
Of course, there’s another reason Osgood is starting for the West: Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo, the leading vote-getter in the fan balloting, decided to skip the game to be with his wife during her pregnancy. And since Detroit coach Mike Babcock is guiding the West squad, it’s a done deal.
“It doesn’t really matter,” said Osgood, a four-time all-star. “If I started, it would be great. If not, that’s fine. I haven’t really put too much thought into it. I don’t really put much into my average or save percentage, either. I just want to be able to win a ton of games by the time I’m done playing. That most important to me.”
Tomas Holmstrom, Mikael Samuelsson and Johan Franzen scored for Detroit.
The victory was Osgood’s 356th, edging him past former Kings goaltender Rogie Vachon for 15th place on the career list.
“It’s a real compliment to him and his career to pass Rogie Vachon and end up in the top 15 all-time,” Babcock said. “I mean, being in the top 15 at anything in the world is pretty special, so it’s a real feather in his cap. It means he’s played with good players, but it also means he’s been a good goalie for a long time.”
In a matchup of NHL’s best and worst teams, the Red Wings improved to 36-10-4 for 76 points. It was the fourth shutout loss by the Kings, who have 40 points and have won only one of the last 18 meetings with Detroit.
“They always play us tough in here, and we knew that,” Osgood said. “Every time we come here, they come at us good. They’ve got a pretty good team on paper and they play real hard against us. They should be winning more games.”
Los Angeles goalie Jason LaBarbera agreed, but he also realized how difficult it would have been to upset a team that has 36 more points in the standings than the Kings do.
“They are the best team in the league for a reason,” LaBarbera said. “They probably didn’t have one of their better games, but they found a way to win. That’s the reason they are in first place and we’re not.”
The Red Wings played without leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg, whose sore back also will keep him out of Wednesday night’s game at Anaheim and the all-star festivities in Atlanta.
Defenceman Chris Chelios, who became the second-oldest player to appear in an NHL game on Jan. 8, was rested three days shy of his 46th birthday. He usually doesn’t play on back-to-back nights, and wasn’t about to miss Wednesday night’s showdown with the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks.
The Red Wings came in averaging a league-high 34.7 shots on net, 11 more per game than their opponents. They were outshot 7-0 over the first six minutes, but scored on their second shot of the game to take the lead at 6:57 of the opening period.
Holmstrom, who turns 35 Wednesday, beat LaBarbera to the glove side with a 15-foot wrist shot for his 19th goal after Pavel Datsyuk threw a cross-ice pass into the slot.
Matt Ellis, inserted into the lineup because of Zetterberg’s injury, set up Detroit’s second goal at 14:47 of the second period. He worked the puck away from Derek Armstrong at the Detroit blue-line and fed it ahead to Samuelsson, who beat LaBarbara high to the glove side with a 25-foot wrist shot from the right circle for his eighth of the season.
Samuelsson, who missed Monday’s practice because of flu-like symptoms, set up Franzen’s ninth goal with 17:05 remaining. He took a shot that went wide of the net, but Franzen played the carom off the end boards and stuffed the puck inside the right post while LaBarbera and defenceman Brad Stuart were trying to smother it in the crease.
Notes: This was the first meeting between the teams since Chelios told a Detroit radio station last week the following about Kings captain Rob Blake: “He’s in a situation there where there’s just no light at the end of the tunnel and he’s lost his drive right now. I’ve been there. I talked to him last time we played him, and he would love to come here.” … Zetterberg pulled out of the all-star game for the second straight season. He missed it last year because of pain in his wrist. … The Kings will host Anaheim on Thursday night in their final game before the all-star break, then go on an eight-game road trip that includes a stop in Detroit – where Los Angeles hasn’t won since Feb. 18, 2000.