Red Wings ‘feeling good’ after four games, as newcomers steady the ship

Detroit News

Ted Kulfan
| The Detroit News

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Detroit — The important thing to remember is it’s only been four games.

Four games to begin this weird, unique, short season of an NHL schedule, and all the Red Wings did was split them.

But Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime victory over Columbus was another reminder that this does feel different from last season’s misery.

The Red Wings appear to be much more competitive.

“We are feeling good,” said forward Tyler Bertuzzi, who scored Tuesday’s winner, essentially banking in Dylan Larkin’s pass off a 2-on-1 rush. “We have a really good team this year and if we can play like that and keep doing the right things we’ll get rewarded with these one-goal wins.”

At least in the first 240 minutes and 15 seconds of hockey this season, general manager Steve Yzerman’s free-agent and trade acquisitions have been impactful on and off the ice.

They’ve added an air of professionalism, and stability, that was much needed.

Forwards Bobby Ryan (four goals in three games), Vladislav Namestnikov and Mathias Brome; defensemen Marc Staal, Jon Merrill and Troy Stecher; and goalie Thomas Greiss have solidified the roster in various ways.

“The fresh faces have calmed our bench down a little bit,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We don’t seem to be as excitable as we’ve been. Is that growth in some of our guys that have returned? Probably. Is it new, fresh faces and not necessarily wearing previous years’ losses or struggles? Probably.

“We just keep playing, and that’s the approach I like. To a man, nothing has bothered us so far. We’ve just kept playing.”

That calmness and poise on the ice has been evident at various times, and different ways.

Players want the puck, aren’t shying away from it, and when the other team has scored or gained momentum, the Wings have rebounded or come right back from the body blow.

“We want the puck,” Larkin said of the confidence being exhibited on the ice. “Last year, you’d look up and there’s five backs to you, no one is facing the puck, no one is talking, no one wants it.

“This year, the new additions on the back end, they’re yelling, screaming for the puck. They want it on their sticks. They want to make plays. It’s just so much more comforting going back, and you have so much confidence the next guy wants it and he’s there to support you.

“It helps so much getting the puck out of our own zone and then we can go make plays.”

Larkin, the newly named captain before this season began, has also been pleased with how these first four games have unfolded for the Red Wings.

The test now, though, is to continue this for the rest of the 52 games.

“I’ve liked our process every game, the way we’ve played with the puck, our confidence,” Larkin said. “Our goaltending has been great. Starting the season 2-2, that’s  huge for our confidence.

“The way we’re playing is repeatable; I feel like we could play like that every night, as opposed to last season when it was hard to come by and find our game every game. Every game we’ve gotten better and more comfortable with the puck.

“It was a great home stand.”

Power play comes alive

Anthony Mantha‘s power-play goal Tuesday was the Wings’ first in seven attempts.

Granted, it’s still early in the season, but it was important for the Wings to finally connect.

“Confidence matters; it’s real,” Blashill said. “It’s real for the individuals, individual players, and real for the units. Us scoring a goal was important. We’ve had some chances, some opportunities (but) it hasn’t been good enough. But certainly scoring matters and it helps confidence. We just have to stay with it and keep grinding away.”

Bertuzzi felt it was important to show progress on the power play.

“Our power play needed to be way better than the first three games,” Bertuzzi said. “It took us a little bit to set up in the zone but when we did, we moved it well and created a ton of chances and that led to a big goal.

“We kind of got it going from there.”

Ice chips

The Wings had the day off Wednesday, before returning to practice Thursday and embarking on a four-game road trip, their first of this young season.

… Expect defenseman Christian Djoos, claimed off waivers during training camp and under quarantine since arriving with the Wings, to be involved in Thursday’s practice.

… Blashill, as any coach would, still can find areas where the Wings can get better.

“We’re still giving too many rush chances up against, so there’s still areas we need to get better at,” Blashill said. “But our puck support was really good, we moved the puck pretty well to each other. We’ve just got to keep working at it and keep getting better.”

Twitter: @tkulfan

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