Anaheim, Calif. — Suddenly, Justin Abdelkader has become an unstoppable offensive force.
Abdelkader scored three goals — yes you read that right —and Jimmy Howard provided excellent goaltending as the Red Wings defeated the Anaheim Ducks, 5-1, in the start of this weekend series.
The teams play again Sunday here in an NHL scheduling oddity.
Another oddity is Abdelkader scoring three goals in a game.
This was the first time that's ever happened in Abdelkader's four-year NHL career. He did have one in the minor leagues, for Grand Rapids in 2008.
"In Grand Rapids, the third goal was an empty-netter so it was pretty unique to get one halfway through (this) game," Abdelkader said. "It was just one of those games when you get the puck, you want to keep shooting."
Abdelkader has five goals in the last three games after not scoring a goal in 23 games to start the season.
On Friday, the puck seemed to follow Abdelkader, who easily could have had two more goals.
"Sometimes the puck will find you, or follow you, and maybe that was the case in this game," Abdelkader said. "We had a good team game, and give those guys (linemates Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen) all the credit. Pav and Mule, they've done a tremendous job. I'm just trying to do my part, just keep going to the net and keep it simple and when I get the puck make good plays with it."
Abdelkader drove to the net and beat goalie Viktor Fasth at 13 minutes, 36 seconds, of the first period; one-timed a shot past Fasth at 3:06 of the second period, sending Fasth to the bench in favor of Jonas Hiller; and beat Hiller on a rush at 12:46 of the second period.
In the third period, Abdelkader actually was credited for a fourth goal that later was given to Franzen, after Anaheim's Emerson Etem redirected the puck into his own net.
In one night, Abdelkader doubled his season total in goals from three to six
"I was the beneficiary of playing with those two guys (Datsyuk, Franzen)," Abdelkader said. "It was just one of those things where I had some good opportunities and made the most of them."
Coach Mike Babcock put Abdelkader on a wing with Datsyuk and Franzen, wanting Abdelkader to establish a net-front presence and retrieve pucks for Datsyuk.
The plan has been working.
"Abby bring it every day," Babcock said. "He works hard, trains hard every day, and loves hockey.
"It took a little while after the lockout. He's a big, heavy man and it's taken a little time to get him skating the way he can. But he's skating."
Said Howard: "He's been working extremely hard and it was good to see him get rewarded."
Also starring for the Red Wings (15-11-5, 35 points) was Howard, who stopped 33 shots and was the difference in the first half of the game.
"I felt like I needed to a little redemption from the other night," Howard said of a sub-par game in Wednesday's loss to Minnesota. "I didn't play my 'A' game, but over the course that's going to happen. It's important to get right back on track."
Said Babcock: "Howie was real good early when we weren't skating at all and they were tilting the rink. We had some huge penalty kills (3-for-3), the guys paid the price, and our back end was real good. In the end, it was a big win for us."
Datsyuk added a power-play goal and two assists, both milestone achievements in their own right. The goal was No. 250 of Datsyuk's career, while the assist was No. 500.
Franzen also had a goal and two assists.
Teemu Selanne scored the lone goal for the Ducks (22-4-4, 48 points).
The loss snapped Anaheim's 13-game win streak at Honda Center. The Ducks lost opening night and hadn't lost until Friday.
"We want to remember it and we don't want it to happen again," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "That's a pretty good team over there and they handled the puck tremendously and they made us look bad."