Mrazek, Red Wings blank Avalanche

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Denver — Petr Mrazek held off the Avalanche long enough for the Red Wings, playing at high altitude for the first time in five days, to get going.

And with a fine display of hands by Justin Abdelkader on the power play, off they went.

The Wings beat the Avalanche 3-0 on Thursday night in game every bit as passionate as those played so often by these franchises in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The affair even featured an improbable fight, just 44 seconds in, which spurred on a crowd that required absolutely no motivation, with fans of both teams trading chants for much of the night.

"We'd been off for a few days, and in here, it's always tough for the first 10 minutes. It just seems like you can't skate," said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, whose team was outstanding, again, on the power play, and improved on the penalty kill.

"We couldn't skate, and they could. And then I thought we really took over in the second period.

"Mrazek was really good, off the start, and once we got skating, I thought we controlled a lot of the play."

The Red Wings added to their woes — and the 22-year-old Mrazek's burden — by winning only one-third of the face offs in the first period. The Avalanche also attempted 26 shots in the period, with 12 finding the mark, to 10 attempts and five shots on goal for the Wings.

Mrazek, who is now 7-1 filling in for both Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson, was outstanding.

"They were in our zone a lot, but I didn't think I had that many shots," Mrazek said. "And we scored those goals. So that was great.

"When you have lots of shots in the first and they don't score, are you're going off after 20 zero-zero, that's great for the team. But then, in the second, I thought we started playing really good, and the guys did a good job in front of me."

Despite some soft goals in his nine games as a replacement and Babcock saying Mrazek still has some work to do on his skills, the coach said he continued to be impressed with the young goalie.

"For sure, tonight's a big night for him," Babcock said. "The guy at the other end (Semyon Varlamov) is a star. He's a heck of a goalie, and it took a goal to beat him 1-0 — I mean, I don't count the empty-net goals — for a kid, is good for him."

Indeed, after the Avalanche coach Patrick Roy pulled Varlamov, down 1-0, with a baffling three minutes remaining in the game, both Darren Helm and Luke Glendening fired into the open net.

But it was the dominating power play, once again, and Abdelkader's fine effort at close range that truly made the difference.

After grabbing a pass at the top of the crease, the former Michigan State standout fired, collected the rebound, adjusted his sights and fired again, beating Varlamov, at 13:25 of the second period.

"I think our power play's been good, especially doing a good job of breaking the penalty killers down and getting pucks back and second and third chances," Abdelkader said.

He now has 12 goals and 16 assists, for the sixth-most points on the team.

Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist assisted on the big goal, as the Wings were devastating with their movement and puck control.

"Z. got it to me, and I knew I was going to have some room because the defenseman played pretty high there," Abdelkader said.

"I took it to the net. Varlamov, a lot of times he really takes away a lot of the net, but the puck kind of laid down there, and I got the rebound and put the puck in the net.

"It's not always the first chance, but sometimes the second and third, especially on good goalies."

Jonathan Ericsson, Abdelkader and Babcock all expressed surprise at the fight, that it emerged from not a major hit by Ericsson, and that Nathan MacKinnon, who rarely if ever fights, took on the sizable Wings' defenseman.

"I think I got him a little with his head down on the ice, and I think he got a little (angry) with me, because he was the one that wanted to go," said Ericsson, who got kudos after the game from team mates.

"I don't really fight that much anymore. But it was a good trade-off with MacKinnon."

The fight removed a key Avalanche forward, their leading scorer, for much of the first five minutes of the game.

Ericsson also clearly won the fight, landing two hard rights. But he said he thought he mostly hit MacKinnon's helmet. The big defenseman said he also was pleased not to get hurt, as he has suffered injuries in the past, fighting.

Babcock and the Wings also were pleased by the penalty kill. Laboring some in recent games, it also is significantly worse on the road — entering the game 24th in the NHL (77.2 percent) — than at home.

But it turned around against the Avalanche.

"Even our penalty kill tonight was huge," Abdelkader said. "We killed off three penalties at the start there, and kind of got us some momentum, got us going there.

"And that was important, keeping it at zero-zero."

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

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