Wings outplayed, but Howard, Zidlicky come to rescue

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — Straggling and sloppy, at times, they played like a hockey team that had not been home in 16 days.

So often it is tough to get the feet moving and to sustain the effort returning from a long trip. The Red Wings showed it Wednesday, as the New York Rangers outshot them in all three periods, and 40-31 for the game.

But Jimmy Howard came up big.

Marek Zidlicky, acquired Monday for a conditional third-round pick, demonstrated how wisdom, skill and experience adds up to consequential offense from the back end.

And with a couple of nifty assists by Henrik Zetterberg, returning to the lineup after missing four games, the Wings persisted for a fairly improbable 2-1 overtime win.

"I thought Howie was good," Mike Babcock said. "I thought we looked like we'd been on a long road trip and got back, and we were wearing snow shoes. Turned the puck over a lot.

"We were all right in the first part of the first (period), until we took a couple of penalties in a row. And the second, they dominated us and we turned the puck over like I've never seen us turn it over.

"We did better in the third and, in the end, good goaltending and good specialty teams won us the game."

It was not pretty. But they won.

"You don't want to play like this, but I don't mind stealing something," Babcock said. "I knew tonight was going to be tough. After these long road trips, even though you want to skate and all that, you just look like you're in quicksand out there, and that's what we looked like."

Howard was particularly impressive — and his team seemed particularly deep in the muck — during a 90-second interval of the second period, when the Rangers controlled play for so long they accomplished nearly three line changes without ever leaving the zone.

During the bombardment Howard stopped big shots from big shooters Rick Nash, former Wolverine Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello.

"They had probably three shifts in a row, and in that span they probably had 10 shots," said Zetterberg, who picked up his 35th and 36th assists.

"It was the battle against inertia for us tonight. I think we turned the puck over a little too much. But for the guys who've been here for a little while, it's a typical first game after the West Coast."

When his interviews were over, without being asked, Zetterberg volunteered, "Howie was good, too."

Howard, who has grappled with inconsistency since returning from a groin injury that kept him out five weeks, called it his strongest performance since his return.

"They threw a lot at the net, but that's the way they play," Howard said of the Rangers, who had won four of their last five coming in. "I knew that coming into tonight that I was going to be busy.

"Whenever they get an opportunity, they throw it to the net and crash. So, I just tried to make sure I did the best I could tonight to put rebounds in good spots, or eat them up."

In the third, when Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh put one high off the glass behind Howard, it nearly bounced back into play right in front of the goaltender. But, resembling the acrobatic former Wings goalie of the 1960s, Roger Crozier, Howard read the play, pirouetted in his crease, and while on one skate knocked the puck to safety.

"Just from knowing the boards and practicing in here a lot, you see shots that hit over your head and come right back over into the crease area," he said. "You know, I just kept my eye on it and just tried to swipe it as hard as I could, away."

The Wings entered the overtime on the power play. They finally outshot the Rangers in a frame, 3-0.

Controlling the puck for much of the first minute, Zidlicky decided that it was time for the guile of a 38-year-old, offensively-minded defenseman.

He pinched aggressively and stayed down low for long seconds, while the triangle of Rangers defenders deployed to kill the power play grappled with his positioning.

They failed.

With Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg assisting, the puck was suddenly near Zidlicky, who was right on top of goalie Cam Talbot in the crease.

Amid a swarm of bodies and action, Zidlicky managed to knock it in.

A man of easy smiles, but few and quiet words, Zidlicky was nonchalant about this first goal for the Red Wings, in his first game.

"I think Z had a good scoring chance from his side, and I was very close," he said. "And I was able to score. It couldn't be a better feeling.

"I saw the puck there, and I just tried to hit the puck."

It was a bit of redemption, perhaps. Zidlicky was penalized in the first period, as the Wings had one of their many bouts of chasing the Rangers around the defensive zone, before he finally held one of them, behind the net.

Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi tallied on the power play, with assists by Nash and Derick Brassard, to tie the score at 17:02.

Justin Abdelkader scored the first goal for the Wings, at 6:12 of the first period. It was his 14th of the season, a career high.

With Abdelkader skating hard to the net, Zetterberg fed him perfectly with a backhanded pass. The puck hit Abdelkader's skate before his stick, and then went in.

A replay review confirmed the goal.

Zidlicky played 17:44 on 22 shifts, including 2:28 on the power play. He scored the winner, took two shots, delivered one hit and gave the puck away once.

The other arrival at the trade deadline, Erik Cole, played 14:24 on 20 shifts, had one shot on net in four attempts and two hits.

Asked how the new fellows did, Babcock said he was largely pleased.

"To be honest, it's: I hope they don't think we play like this," he said. "Because, we don't. I've never seen anything quite like it.

"You know," he went on, laughing at his own playfulness, "you almost expect it, but you're hoping you're going to get through it, and play better.

"It's nice, once in a while, to win games when you don't play very well. I thought our goalie gave us that chance."

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

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