DETROIT – With nine games left in the regular season for the Detroit Red Wings, they suddenly find themselves clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
That’s because they failed once again to take advantage of playing on home ice as they fell to the St. Louis Blues, 1-0, at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday afternoon.
The win moved the Blues ahead of Detroit in the standings and they’ve played two fewer games than the Wings.
“We all know what’s at stake here and we have to do a better job,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Tonight we didn’t do enough. The power play has to be better and be a factor each night and tonight it wasn’t.”
The Wings were 0-for-3 on the power play and now drop to 1-3-1 in their last five at home.
“Anytime you’re at home you want to try to take advantage of them,” Kronwall said. “Tonight we did a lot of good things but couldn’t find a way to beat (Brian) Elliott. It’s very disappointing.”
Elliott, who came in just 2-6-1 lifetime against the Wings, stopped all 28 shots he faced to record just his first shutout of the season. The Blues netminder had nine shutouts last season.
“It’s a no brainer, we know what’s going on, we see the (standings) board every single day,” said Wings goalie Jimmy
Howard, who made 24 saves. “It’s imperative we get points and that means we have to dig a little deeper.
“It’s frustrating,” Howard continued. “We know we need the points right now and when we’re not getting them it’s just frustrating.”
The Wings are now just 10-7-3 at home this season. Last year they won a record 23 consecutive games on home ice.
“That part is frustrating as well,” said Howard of the team’s lack of success at home. “We were so good at home last year. It’s just frustrating we’re not able to get the job done at home.”
Chris Porter scored the lone goal of the game late in the second period.
“We’ve got to get to the point where we stop looking behind us and the rungs below us,” St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We’ve got to start looking above us. We’ve got to start thinking about getting a higher seed. We spent two months looking over our shoulder. Ten days ago, we were in 11th and we were not looking good. Then we won four in a row against real good teams and now we’re looking at, ‘Can we get to sixth place?’ We’ve got to start looking up.
“I think the teams that narrow their focus at this time of year are going to be successful,” Hitchcock continued. “Everybody’s talking about best of threes or whatever. For me it’s one day at a time, find a way to compete and get points any way you can.”
Gustav Nyquist had the Wings’ best scoring chance in the second period with eight minutes left to play.
Taking advantage of Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk lost his edge at the Wings blue line, Johan Franzen fed Nyquist just over St. Louis’ blue line, but Elliott got a piece of his shot with his blocker.
A few minutes later, the Blues got the only goal of the game thanks to the efforts of Porter going hard to the goal crease. After Howard made a save on Patrik Berglund, the puck laid in the blue paint where Porter pounced on it and jammed it over the goal line.
Elliott did the rest, winning for a third straight time.
One of his biggest saves came on Pavel Datsyuk with 20 seconds left to play in regulation. Datsyuk skated left, dangling the puck on his stick and shot back right. Elliott was up to the task snaring the shot out of midair.
“Brian is on top of his game right now,” Hitchcock said. “They didn’t get any second or third shots, but it’s not fun watching (Henrik Zetterberg) and (Datsyuk) come at you in the third period. We were gassed.”
Now the Wings wait until Thursday to play again, as teams behind them in the standings – Phoenix, Edmonton and Columbus – have two games each to play and look to leapfrog Detroit into a playoff spot.
“I thought our guys played hard enough,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We had a few chances, but they got one goal in. The message in their goal was simply we had the puck. We went to shoot it in, it hit their guy in the leg and ended up changing direction and in a scrum in front of our net. That’s playoff hockey.”
The Coyotes are three points behind Detroit, followed by the Oilers and Blue Jackets, who played Sunday night, both four points behind.
“I enjoyed coaching today,” Babcock said. “I enjoyed watching our players compete. I liked our game. Our power play I thought could have been more dangerous. Our penalty kill was good. I just thought it was a good hockey game.”