Detroit — The Red Wings had a lot of fight in them but lost, 2-0, to the Avalanche Sunday at Little Caesars Arena, breaking their two-game winning streak and suffering their first shutout since March.
After a strong first period, in which the Wings were the assertive team, they got only 11 shots in the final two.
The game featured Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha winning big fights in the third period.
But playing without both of their third-best goal scorers for five minutes, while their second-leading goal scorer Dylan Larkin also had to sit out until he cleared concussion protocol, the Wings surrendered some of their key offensive weapons when it was a one-goal game.
“We certainly weren’t perfect,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We had a lot of good chances to score and didn’t score.
“But, I thought our compete level and our physicality was really good.”
In the opening moments of the game, Mantha and Larkin broke in on a two-on-one charge and Mantha deftly fed a pass across the goal mouth, but Larkin could not finish.
Then, at about the nine-minute mark of the first period, Mantha got behind the Avalanche defense but could not score.
There were a couple of other occasions when it seemed like the Wings had the game on their sticks, especially with the Avalanche not tallying until 4:54 of the second period.
But, the Red Wings could not finish.
They left little doubt, however, about who won the fights.
In scenes reminiscent of the Red Wings rivalry with the Avalanche for about a decade, beginning in mid-1990s, scrappy play, heavy body-checking and some hard feelings led to gloves dropped and fists thrown.
Mostly, Wings’ fists landed.
The trade-off between the team playing tough, asserting themselves physically, protecting each other and losing Mantha and Bertuzzi with fighting majors seemed just fine, to the coach.
“A hundred percent, a hundred percent,” Blashill said. “We’ll go a lot farther with us sticking up for each other than any downside of losing some guys.
“They’re real good players, but we’re going to win in this room as a group, and we’re going to win fighting for each other, sticking up for each other. We said that since Day 1.
“That’s the way the game goes."
Goals could have come from some shots the Wings passed up, Blashill said.
Or, from the plays they made but could not finish.
But, using 11 forwards and seven defenseman for the third straight game and playing without the three key forwards for some big chunks of the third period did not help the cause, offensively, in a third period that remained 1-0, until the Avalanche scored into an empty net at 19:01.
“I thought we did a good job all night with the physical play,” said Larkin, who had three shots on goal in six attempts, and won 12 of 20 face-offs. “That’s what we’ve got to do.
“We’ve got to play like that. We’ve got to score. But, we stuck together. We battled. We had our chances.
“So, if we play like that for the remainder of the games, or for a stretch, we’re going to have lots of success.”
It is the first time the Red Wings were shutout since March 22, with Philipp Grubauer in net for the Capitals, in a 1-0 game.
The loss brings the Wings record to 11-5-1 since their 1-7-2 start.
The Red Wings got off to a fine start. They were the better team in the first period.
The big line for the Avalanche, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, opened the scoring.
The trio came into the game with a combined 112 points, and the Avalanche had the best power play in the NHL (31.4 percent) and third-best on the road (34.6 percent).
Six seconds into the Wings first penalty of the game, to Jonathan Ericsson for holding at 4:46 of the second period, MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen combined for a goal, straight from the face-off.
MacKinnon won the face-off and scored the goal, his 19th of the season.
It came with the Avalanche making a big push from the start of the period.
After a big 4-2 win in Boston on Saturday night, the Red Wings were the assertive team throughout the first period. Off their first win in five years against the Bruins in TD Garden, the Wings were full of jump.
The period also featured the first “Kronwalling” in some time, as Niklas Kronwall lined up Colin Wilson skating up the right wing in his own
The Wings outshot the visitors, who practiced in Detroit Saturday and waited for the Sunday game, 13-7 in the first.
But the Red Wings could have expected a big push from one of the best teams in the league in the second period, and they got it.
By 1:18 of the second, the Avalanche were outshooting the Wings 3-1 in the period and went on to a 13-6 advantage in the period, turning the tables and tilting the ice on the previously assertive Red Wings.
Through 9:55 of the third period, the Wings had no shots on goal.
Finally, Justin Abdelkader’s backhand shot, saved with comparative ease, became just the eighth shot by the Wings since the first period.
But, with Jonathan Bernier solid against his old team, the Wings managed to limit the damage.
“I thought he was very good,” Blashill said. “He’s been good most of the year.”
They also continued their assertiveness, even without the shots.
After big body checks by the Avalanche on Andreas Athanasiou and Larkin, Bertuzzi and Mantha both squared off against the checking opponents.
Both Bertuzzi and Mantha landed far more punches than either Ian Cole, who checked Athanasiou and had to fight Bertuzzi, or Patrik Nemeth, who checked Larkin and had to fight Mantha.
The NHL told the Wings Larkin had to sit through concussion protocol before he could return to action.
“It was a hit to the head,” Larkin said. “Nemeth came to the corner, there.
“It’s tough,” he said, of having to sit during a critical juncture. “I don’t know. I was fine. I’m fine now. I guess it’s league protocol. It’s at a critical time of the game.
“It is what it is. But that was tough to be in the middle of the period, back-to-back (games) and it takes the wind out of your sails, right there, when you have to go in and sit for five minutes.
The rest of the third period featured rough play, especially when Larkin leveled Rantanen at center ice with a vicious, open-ice hit.
Landeskog added an empty net goal at 19:01 of the third for his 16th tally of the year.