Joe Hicketts shines, Red Wings trounce Penguins

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — A little bit of the old and new combined to make the present a little more enjoyable Tuesday around the Red Wings.

On a night veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall notched his 400th point and young defenseman Joe Hicketts earned the first two points of his career, the Red Wings earned a rare win, a 5-2 victory over the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

The victory was only the second in the last 14 games (2-11-1) for the Red Wings, and it certainly will not help their odds of getting a higher draft pick.

But forget all that. The Red Wings needed a victory badly, and to do it against Pittsburgh made it that much special.

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BOX SCORE: Red Wings 5, Penguins 2

“It’s been frustrating,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “When it’s frustrating and you lose and you don’t play well, it’s hard to swallow. So it was great to answer, with not just a good performance but a real good win against, obviously, a real good team.

“We’ve gone through this stretch and not won many games at all. But we’ve worked extremely hard and competed hard and actually played good hockey, and that’s been tough for us. To answer with that performance we had was great.”

This was the Red Wings’ first regulation victory since Feb. 24, a 3-1 win over Carolina. It’s been a while.

But they earned this one, outplaying the Penguins for large portions of the 60 minutes — and doing so after a rather drab loss in Montreal the night before.

“It was a tough turnaround for us coming in from Montreal last night and having Pittsburgh waiting for us,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “But we played simple, and they live on turnovers and when they get the puck with speed, they’re real good. We took care of that in a good way.”

The game didn’t start well, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby converting a 2-on-1 rush 38 seconds into the game for his 27th goal, which probably left Red Wings fans thinking was going to be one long evening.

But the Red Wings settled down, and frankly, took over the game.

Luke Glendening scored two goals (one an empty-netter), while Kronwall, Frans Nielsen (power play), and Darren Helm (two assists) scored Red Wings goals, while Jimmy Howard stopped 22 shots.

Kris Letang had the other Penguins goal.

It was also an impressive return to the NHL for Hicketts, who was recalled from Grand Rapids after Monday’s loss in Montreal.

Hicketts had two assists (his first NHL points), saved a potential goal with his stick near the crease, and led the team with six blocked shots in 17 minutes, 40 seconds of ice time.

“He got better as the game went along,” Blashill said. “Joe has lots of swagger and confidence and kind of plays the game what that type of swagger.”

Hicketts was on the ice for Crosby’s goal in the opening seconds, but he, too, settled down as the evening went along.

“I was a little star-struck (at the start) but as the game went on I kind of figured out how to play him (Crosby) and give him a little bit of room but not too much,” Hicketts said. “As the game went on, I got better, I knew what I wanted to do.”

Kronwall tied the score at 1 in the first period, getting the Red Wings right back in the game, with his 80th career goal — which moved Kronwall into a tie for fourth among all-time Red Wings defensemen with Marcel Pronovost — and his 400th career point.

“It was nice, definitely, but it was nice that we got the win,” Kronwall said. “That was the more important thing.”

Blashill had praise for Kronwall, who was named the team’s Masterton Trophy (perseverence and dedication to the game) nominee earlier in the day by the Professional Hockey Writers Association Detroit chapter.

“I have as much respect for Niklas as any player, similar to Z (Henrik Zetterberg),” Blashill said. “He’s been an underrated defenseman for a long time in the NHL. I was here as an assistant when he was right in his prime and he was always in the shadows of Nick Lidstrom.

“He’s done such a good job throughout his career and there’s not been a better pro. He has that inner drive that makes great players great, and it’s awesome that he reached that milestone.”