By Brad Lee
The Red Wings are the best team in the league. And as Emmanuel Legace told reporters after Wednesday night's 4-3 loss to Detroit, you have to play hard the entire game to beat them.
"We were kind of star-struck for two periods, watched them skate around. We dominated the third period," Legace said. "If we play 60 minutes like that, we have a chance to beat those guys. If it wasn't for a broken stick, we'd be tied.
"That's the best team in the league."
The broken stick Legace referred to came in the third period when the Blues had pulled the game to 3-2. David Backes was at his own blue line intending to send the puck back to a defenseman to start the breakout. Instead, he broke his stick, the puck got loose, Johan Franzen pounced, skated around the stunned defensemen and put it past Legace for the game-winning goal.
While it's definitely bad luck and horrible timing for Backes' stick to break on a pass (damn composite sticks), if the Red Wings weren't the best team in the league in the neutral zone, the turnover wouldn't have happened and Detroit wouldn't have scored. The Wings stand up the opposing team at the Detroit blue line better than anyone else. They make the neutral zone a minefield to traverse. What happens is that opposing teams rarely have a flow to their transition game and offense. Players get frustrated, there's no rhythm and Detroit creates so many plays and odd-man rushes from the turnovers this pressure creates.
But when you get down to it, the fourth Detroit goal was luck. Franzen created his own luck by being in position and aggressive. But it's pretty rare to see a player break his stick on a pass.
The first three Detroit goals were due to work right on the doorstep of the St. Louis goal.
On the first, Mikail Samuelsson controlled the puck behind the net. He was given a little time to set up shop allowing the dangerous Henrik Zetterberg to swoop into an open space in front and score almost effortlessly.
Tomas Holmstrom makes his living in front of the net. On a Wings' power play, he camped out like in his normal spot and waited. And waited. The puck was cycled around from the point to the near boards. A little give and go set up Marian Hossa to carry the puck to the near post. The defense shifted toward Hossa leaving Holmstrom alone and ready to bang in an easy goal.
On the third Detroit score, Holmstrom was parked in front of the net again, this time as a screener. Niklas Lidstrom floated down from the left point, to an area near the right point to a spot close to the high slot. They fed him on a one timer and when the puck arrived at the net, Legace wasn't even visible. He was that screened by Holmstrom.
The stalwarts for the Blues so far this season stepped up, but it wasn't enough. Keith Tkachuck and Bradley Boyes both scored again. Rookie TJ Oshie scored his first goal. But like Legace said, there was too much watching, too much respect for the Wings and the Blues couldn't pull off another late-game miracle.
The Blues return to action Friday night at home against the Los Angeles Kings. And in case you haven't heard, Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will be in attendance. The self-proclaimed hockey mom will drop the ceremonial first puck. That could get interesting.