Detroit – Coming out of the all-star break, the Red Wings played three important games: Two against top teams in the Eastern Conference, the Lightning and Islanders, and one against the Panthers, the first team standing out of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Wings managed four of six points, including a good bounce-back win against the Islanders on Saturday afternoon, after playing poorly in Tampa on Thursday.
Helped by some keen marksmanship from their shooters and some timely saves by Petr Mrazek, the Wings beat the Islanders 4-1, despite being outshot 23-19. There were long intervals when the Islanders dominated play and kept the Wings in their own zone, but the Red Wings' shooting lifted them.
"We just had to flush the last game out of our brains and refocus, and that's what we did." said Tomas Tatar, who opened the scoring with his 22nd goal. "And that's what we did.
"We had kind of a rough first five minutes of the game, but then we played good. I don't think the score showed how tough the game was, but we are happy about the two points"
Despite yielding a power-play goal, on which the penalty kill was again in disarray, the Red Wings executed far better than on Thursday against the Lightning, which was one of their worst games of the season, in which they had unusual difficulty executing their systems.
The power play was potent Saturday, with goals by Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, his 20th, which salted-away the win.
"All in all, good specialty teams," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "Two good hockey teams, not much room. I thought a well-contested game, a well-played game and not much running around.
"It's hard to get to the net. The teams are tight-checking. We knew that before the game. The last time we played them, I think, there were only 13 shots.
"They're a good team. They play tight and make it hard on you. But, today, I thought we did a pretty good job."
Both teams entered the game with 65 points. The Islanders were in first place in the Metropolitan Division and the Wings in third in the Atlantic.
The Red Wings victimized Islanders goalie Chad Johnson on blistering, far-top-corner shots on their first two goals.
At first, however, they got off to a bit of a rough start, with the Islanders dominating the geography, if not so much the shot clock. But, at 5:17 of the first period, the Islanders forward Mikhail Grabovski skated into Mrazek in the Wings net and was whistled for interference.
On the power play, Danny DeKeyser did a good job keeping an attempting clearing shot in the zone and deftly fed Pavel Datsyuk along the sideboards.
Datsyuk feathered a crisp cross-ice pass to Tatar, who took it in above the left face-off circle, skated in and was nearly knocked off his feet by a defender, who appeared to hook him.
Tatar managed to stay on his feet, and ripped a rising wrist shot into the top right corner.
"I got kind of hooked and I stumbled. So I just tried to put it high," Tatar said. "I hit it. So it was a lucky goal, I guess."
It redeemed a stammering start, for the Red Wings, who began playing as if they had hit a reset button.
But the Islanders proved both stingy and offensively creative.
After some tight play, including a 14-minute stretch during which the Red Wings managed just one shot, Brendan Smith scored on a similar shot, with 43 seconds left in the second period.
Tomas Jurco took control of the puck just to the left of Johnson, used his 6-foot-1, 203-pound frame to ward off a defender, then found Smith on the near sideboards.
Smith took the puck and let go a shot high to the long side, and it also went in the top corner.
Did he see an opening, or just let it rip? Smith said he shot it to daylight.
"Yeah, I think so. I mean, it went there," Smith said. "So I was pretty happy."
After the Islanders got a got a goal early in the third period from defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, playing in his first game after missing nine with an injury, Jonathan Ericsson added an unassisted tally four minutes later.
Then, at 13:08 of the period, with the Wings buzzing dangerously, a hard shot deflected off the shin of an Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy, directly to the stick of Gustav Nyquist, who had ample time and scored his 20th goal of the season.
Mrazek stopped 22 of 23 shots, including a few crucial saves when the Islanders controlled the action for long periods.
"I felt really good, after not so good against last game," Mrazek said.
He was pulled for the third period against the Lightning, after yielding five goals on 15 shots through two periods.
The Wings had 10 giveaways against the Islanders, including two each by Smith, DeKeyser and Riley Sheahan. They won 39 percent of the faceoffs, and were out-hit, 36-20.
But they prevailed, against the top team in the other division in the East.
The Red Wings next game is Thursday, at the Colorado Avalanche.