Game 27: Red Wings-NY Islanders Enotes

Pavel who?

The Red Wings won their third straight game today—all without the injured Pavel Datsyuk—as they whitewashed the NY Islanders, 5-0, on Long Island.

Daniel Alfredsson and Darren Helm each scored twice, and Gustav Nyquist added a goal. Jimmy Howard made 29 saves.

Never has a player earned the No. 1 star quite like Helm did. His second goal was a shortie, and he was around the puck all game long.

The shorthanded goal was one of the most magnificent you’ll ever see.

Using his blazing speed, Helm outraced Radek Martinek to the puck at the Isles’ blue line, putting Helm on a collision course with NY goalie Kevin Poulin between the circles. Helm flipped into a partial somersault over Poulin’s right pad, tipping the puck in the process. The puck and Helm’s stick both ended up in the net.

It could have been a nightmare play, too. The way Helm’s legs hit Poulin’s pad was actually quite scary. And with Helm’s injury luck, you kind of held your breath. But he was fine, and the shortie gave the Red Wings a 2-0 lead at 16:49 of the second period.

Alfredsson’s first goal was a breakaway from the blue line, courtesy a nifty breakout pass from Brendan Smith that was threaded through sticks and skates from inside the Red Wings zone. Alfie buried a snap shot over Poulin’s left shoulder for a 3-0 lead 12 seconds into the third period.

Howard had to make a point blank stop with under a minute to play to salvage his shutout.

The line of Helm, Alfredsson and Johan Franzen was brilliant—combining for four goals and two assists.

The Red Wings (13-7-7) have their first three-game winning streak in a month.

BOX SCORE

BOTTOM LINE: Perhaps the Red Wings’ most complete game of the year. Hardly anything to complain about.

THE WINGED WHEELER SAYS: Coach Mike Babcock had a “doghouse” line of Stephen Weiss, Daniel Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson playing together. Cleary got an assist, on the Helm shortie. This was Red Wing hockey we all know and love: puck possession, hard on the puck in the attacking zone and strong goaltending when necessary—plus secondary scoring. Let’s see if this is the start of something good.

Spotlight on the Opponent: Kyle Okposo

What: Detroit at NY Islanders
When: Friday, November 29, 4:00pm (TV: FSD)

Kyle Okposo

Kyle Okposo is only 25 years old, but he’s already a grizzled veteran.

Okposo is in his seventh NHL season, all with the NY Islanders. The RW was drafted 7th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and he made his NHL debut as a 19-year-old in the 2007-08 season.

He is the only NHL player, for sure, born to a Nigerian father and a Caucasian mother.

Okposo isn’t a goal scorer, but he’s a hard-nosed, gritty player who isn’t afraid to stick his nose where it doesn’t always belong. Okposo’s style of toughness isn’t necessarily reflected in his penalty minutes total, but there’s no question that he is well-respected around the league.

Okposo has scored just 78 goals in 344 NHL games, but 24 of those came in the 2011-12 season, easily his career high.

The trouble is, Okposo goes largely unnoticed because he plays for the Islanders, a team that hasn’t really been relevant often since their glory days of the early-1980s.

For example, even in his 24-goal campaign, Okposo was a minus-15.

Okposo fell back to four goals in 48 games in last year’s lockout-shortened season, but his worth to the Islanders is reflected in his $2.8 million/year salary, based on a five-year contract signed in spring 2011. His value to the team is also acknowledged in Okposo being one of the Isles’ alternate captains.

In 25 games this season, Okposo has six goals and 22 points.

Okposo has big ideas, i.e. qualifying for the 2014 Winter Olympics for Team USA.

US coach Dan Bylsma said on November 22 that Okposo is part of a group of about “six or seven” forwards that the coaching and executive staff, led by Predators general manager David Poile, are keeping a close eye on over the next few weeks. The deadline to select the final 25-man roster is Dec. 31.

Okposo wears no. 21 for the Islanders.

Game 26: Red Wings-Boston Enotes

The Red Wings, on this night before Thanksgiving, are thankful for the law of averages.

On a night when they were once again without Pavel Datsyuk due to concussion-like symptoms, the Red Wings steamrolled past the first-place Boston Bruins, 6-1, at JLA.

It was a night where the law of averages finally kicked in.

Just about everyone who scored snapped a goal-less streak of significance.

The Bruins only mustered 17 shots against goalie Jonas Gustavsson, and didn’t score until less than three minutes were remaining in the game.

Justin Abdelkader, Gustav Nyquist, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Drew Miller and Tomas Tatar were the goal scorers. All but Zetterberg and Nyquist needed a calendar to find their last goal scored.

The Red Wings swarmed the Boston zone, and even though the final SOG total of 28 was hardly Earth-shattering, the shots were often of the scoring quality variety. On many of the goals, the Bruins were out of position and goalie Tuukka Rask was left hung out to dry.

Gustavsson, despite not being tested all that much, was solid in net, as he started for the second straight game as coach Mike Babcock gave struggling Jimmy Howard a “breather.”

Gustavsson (6-0-1) remained undefeated this season.

His counterpart, Rask, had his worst game of the season, by far—but hardly any of the goals were really his fault. Rask’s teammates played like a team thinking more about turkey and dressing than picking up two points.

The Red Wings (12-7-7) have a modest two-game winning streak, something for which to be thankful, the way things have been going. And don’t look now, but that’s two wins in their past three games at home.

Hey, it’s a start.

BOX SCORE

BOTTOM LINE: For one night anyway, the Red Wings looked like the team that used to dominate opponents at JLA.

THE WINGED WHEELER SAYS: It is interesting that the Red Wings played like this in front of Gustavsson. This may be a coincidence, but when Howard has been in net, the entire team looks more tentative. Plus, it’s hard to ignore the goal tending numbers, specifically Gustavsson’s undefeated record.

Ericsson Extended: 6 years, $4.25 Mill Per Year

Jonathan Ericsson

The Red Wings have agreed to a contract extension with D Jonathan Ericsson.

The Free Press’ Helene St. James reported the deal on Twitter.

It’s for six years at a salary cap hit of $4.25 million per year.

Ericsson, 29, was set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

Spotlight on the Opponent: Tuukka Rask

What: Boston at Detroit
When: Wednesday, November 27, 7:30pm (TV: FSD; NBCSN; TSN2)

Tuukka Rask

He might be the best goalie in the NHL today. Certainly, few play with more confidence and swagger than he does on a nightly basis.

He’s Tuukka Rask, and I’m proud of him—because half of my heritage is Finnish.

Rask, 26, is the man between the pipes for the Boston Bruins and he’s playing some great hockey.

He was born in Savonlinna, Finland in March 1987 and was drafted 21st overall in the 2005 Entry Draft by…the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So how did Rask end up tending net for the rival Bruins?

Well, the Maple Leafs earned their derisive nickname, the Maple Laughs, when you hear the story.

Rask was traded to Boston, without having played a game for the Leafs, for goalie Andrew Raycroft, who was a Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) winner for the Bruins in 2003-04. The Leafs felt that Rask was expendable because Justin Pogge, they thought, was their goalie of the future.

Three things here: 1) Pogge ended up playing just seven games for Toronto, and they were seven brutal games; 2) Raycroft flamed out and was awful for Toronto; 3) the Bruins were going to release Raycroft anyway, so if Toronto had been more patient, they could have had him without surrendering Rask.

Well, add a fourth thing: Rask has turned into a great goalie, and in the same division as the Leafs.

Rask’s numbers tell most of the story (from hockey-reference.com):

Season GP W L T/O SV% GAA SO
2007-08 4 2 1 1 0.886 3.26 0
2008-09 1 1 0 0 1 0 1
2009-10 45 22 12 5 0.931 1.97 5
2010-11 29 11 14 2 0.918 2.67 2
2011-12 23 11 8 3 0.929 2.05 3
2012-13 36 19 10 5 0.929 2 5
2013-14 20 13 5 2 0.943 1.69 2
Career 158 79 50 18 0.929 2.09 18

This year, as you can see, is Rask’s best, so far. That dazzling .943 save percentage explains the stingy 1.69 GAA.

Rask led the Bruins to the Cup Finals last season, posting a sweet .940 save percentage and a 1.88 GAA, including three post-season shutouts—one of them in the Finals against Chicago.

Rask faltered slightly in the Finals, giving up 17 goals in six games, but six were in one game, and Game 1 went into three overtimes. Games 2 and 4 went into single overtime.

Rask backed up Tim Thomas during the Bruins’ path to claiming the  Stanley Cup in 2011.

All of this impressive work was rewarded, when the Bruins signed Rask to an eight-year, $56 million contract in July. With that deal, Rask became the highest paid player in Bruins history.

Rask is a fun goalie to watch. He conjures up memories of Patrick Roy: cocky, demonstrative and genuinely surprised when he skates off the ice as the losing goalie. His bursts of foul temper make for fun viewing as well.

No one are bigger fans of Rask’s than his teammates.

“He’s played so many games with such a heavy workload and he seems to be focused every game,” said veteran d-man Dennis Seidenberg the other day. “He’s backing us up, saving us games and winning games for us. It’s nice to have a guy like him in the back.”

Shawn Thornton added, “(Rask)’s been unbelievable for us. He’s stolen games for us. We’re all a big fan of his in here and I don’t think that’s a secret.”

Well, of course they’re fans. Rask might be the man who is the difference maker between other teams winning the Stanley Cup next spring, or the Bruins doing it.