Red Wings’ Nielsen makes points as shootout star
Detroit — Say what you will about the shootout, and whether it’s good or bad for hockey, a great or terrible way to decide an outcome of a game.
But those are important points, and if you have a player who is effective at it, you have an important piece.
Frans Nielsen fits that description aptly.
Nielsen scored the lone shootout goal Friday in the Red Wings’ 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers.
The shootout goal was Nielsen’s 47th in his career — making him the NHL all-time leader — in 94 attempts (50 percent) and it was his 21st game-deciding shootout goal, also an NHL best.
“It’s an asset. It gives you points, and they’re big points,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “Here, and the course of his career, I’m sure he’s accumulated a lot of points for us and the (New York) Islanders.
“Last year our fortunes changed a lot in shootouts and a large part of it was because of Frans. Our goaltenders have really worked hard at their games, getting better at the shootouts, but certainly Frans, and last year Thomas Vanek, helped change the fortunes of that.
“You can say whatever you want about the shootout, about 3-on-3 (overtime), they’re both entertaining. But the points are real. You got to find a way to get the points.”
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was one of the few goalies Nielsen hadn’t victimized in the shootout, so Friday’s goal had added significance.
Not a prolific goal-scorer otherwise — he has nine goals this season — Nielsen keeps a simplified approach to the shootout.
“I’ve definitely stuck with the same couple of moves through the whole time, just doing stuff I’m comfortable with,” Nielsen said. “For the most part I’ve kind of made up my mind before I go in. In the beginning I went backhand every single time until they started figuring it out.
“So, I had to start shooting. At least they didn’t know I’d do that every time. It’s a little bit of a mind game with the goalies, too.”
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are Sunday’s New Year’s Eve opponent, but they aren’t looking like the champs right now.
Pittsburgh (19-17-3) has looked like a team that’s played a ton of hockey over the last two seasons, and hasn’t been helped by key injuries and offensive slumps.
If the playoffs began today, the Penguins would not qualify.
“They still have a lot of really good players, a couple in particular (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin),” Blashill said. “If the ice is easy for Pittsburgh it’s a tough night, so we better make sure we make it hard ice for them.”
Forward Anthony Mantha (undisclosed) will likely miss his second consecutive game after not practicing in Saturday’s optional skate.
Blashill termed Mantha as day-to-day at this point.
“It’s not anything I’m overly worried about but questionable for (Sunday),” Blashill said.
Penguins at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7 p.m., Sunday, Little Caesars Arena
TV/radio: FSD/WXYT 97.1
Outlook: The Penguins (19-17-3) are 4-6 over their last 10 games and out of a playoff position. … RW Phil Kessel leads offensively with 16 goals, 25 assists, 41 points.