ST. PAUL, Minn. – After another dominating victory over the Minnesota Wild, Red Wings centre Kris Draper packed his bag in front of his locker and was asked where he was headed.
“I’m going back to Hockeytown,” Draper said with a smile.
It seems that Detroit hasn’t taken too kindly to losing its label to St. Paul.
Dominik Hasek made 18 saves, and the tight-checking Red Wings suffocated Marian Gaborik in a 4-1 victory over the Wild on Saturday night.
Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Daniel Cleary and Tomas Kopecky scored for the Red Wings, who were without two top offensive players in Henrik Zetterberg (back) and Tomas Holmstrom (knee).
The team hardly missed them, piling up a season-high 51 shots, the most ever allowed by the defensive-minded Wild at home.
“They controlled the game really good,” Zetterberg said. “It was an easy game to sit and watch.”
Two nights after becoming the first NHL player in nearly 11 years to score five goals in a game, Gaborik was held to just two shots by the determined Detroit defence, which gave the lightning-fast Slovak no room to work in the offensive zone.
“Everybody had a pretty good night for us,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
Nicklas Lidstrom’s lob pass to Cleary for a breakaway goal was the 900th point of Lidstrom’s NHL career and gave the Wings a 3-0 lead with four minutes to play in the second period.
It was a statement game for Detroit, which has outscored Minnesota 9-1 in two games since Sports Illustrated declared in a magazine article that St. Paul – home to the Wild’s gleaming Xcel Energy Center – was the new “Hockeytown.”
The city of Detroit may have fallen on hard times, causing attendance to dip at Joe Louis Arena, but the Red Wings are flying as high as ever.
They are 11-1-1 in their last 13 games and are running away from rest of the Western Conference with 55 points in 36 games (26-7-3).
“We’re not close to that team right now,” Wild forward Brian Rolston said. “And that’s the bottom line.”
That much was clear from the start. With Zetterberg, whose 25 goals are the second most in the NHL, and Holmstrom watching, the Red Wings set the tone by peppering Niklas Backstrom with 13 shots in the first 10 minutes.
All that effort on the offensive end did little to affect their performance on defence. The Wild had three shots in the first 10 minutes and were outshot 33-14 in the first two periods.
Franzen and Cleary scored 45 seconds apart in the second period, essentially putting the game out of reach for the frustrated Wild.
“(Rolston) said when we were sitting on the bench in the third, he put it well when he said, that team seems like the Anaheim of last year,” Wild forward Mark Parrish said.
Gaborik scored just about every way possible on Thursday night against the New York Rangers and even added an assist in a jaw-dropping, six-point game in a 6-3 victory.
But his struggles against Hasek and Detroit didn’t come as a surprise. The Red Wings entered the game with the second fewest goals allowed in the NHL, and Hasek won his sixth straight against the Wild.
“We were trying to take his time and space away,” Lidstrom said. “Sometimes he goes real deep and it’s tough to close that gap. But I think we were trying to keep him on the outside, not have him pass it and go to the open space. Just to be aware of where he is on the ice.”
The crowd gave a hearty cheer every time Gaborik touched the puck in the early going, a salute to his previous game. But that wasn’t enough to get him going.
Kim Johnsson managed the only goal of the night for the Wild, and that was a lucky one. His shot from the point on the power play with less than nine seconds remaining in the second period deflected off Detroit defenceman Chris Chelios and past Hasek.
Josh Harding has won his past four starts with a 1.75 goals-against average, but Wild coach Jacques Lemaire gave Backstrom the start on Saturday. He made a career-high 47 saves.
Notes: Johnsson’s goal was his first since March 4, a span of 47 games. … Gaborik tied Wes Walz for the franchise record with 438 games played. … Wild F Petteri Nummelin was activated from the injured list, his first game since Nov. 21 when he sustained a head injury. … Hasek is 9-0-2 lifetime against Minnesota.