| The Detroit News
Just by watching, you can see a notable difference on the ice.
The Red Wings have looked like a different team from Wednesday’s no-show against Tampa Bay, where the Wings were so poor on a variety of levels. In the last two games, particularly Sunday’s win over the Florida Panthers, this has been a different-looking, much-more-difficult-to-play-against Red Wings team.
So, what’s been the difference?
“Neutral zone, way better in the neutral zone and way better slowing teams down,” coach Jeff Blashill said after Sunday’s victory. “This is a team (Florida) that plays fast and they get behind you and we did a way better of clogging up the neutral zone. Both in our effort on Friday and (Sunday) we were way better in the neutral zone and creating turnovers and understanding how important that is.
“It’s something we’ve worked hard at in the last couple practices and it’s made a big difference in our game.”
By playing more of a defensive style, the brand of hockey isn’t necessarily exciting or apt to present numerous highlights. The Wings would rather play low-scoring, tightly played games.
But from the Red Wings’ perspective, as long as they are the team with one more goal in the end, it’s fine.
“The first game (against the Lightning), we gave them the neutral zone and they had a field day with it,” forward Bobby Ryan said. “So when you look at the difference between the two (games), it’s a major contrast. We clogged the neutral zone up and made it hard for them to get through.
“We have to understand we’re not going to win track meets with offenses in this league. We are going to have to be in low-scoring, one-goal games. Mentally those can get wearing when you are on the losing side of those things. But you just have to continue to go to work, continue to do those little things and then eventually you start to see the fruit of the labor.
“The games get a little easier to play like that and you build and you hope it turns. Especially in a year like this, because you have to do it fairly quickly.
“There’s no runway to get behind.”
The Wings have done an admirable job of putting last season’s disastrous season in the past and doing whatever possible to make sure there’s no repeat.
A significant portion of this roster wasn’t around last season, replaced by veterans who have stabilized and strengthened the roster.
Blashill wants the Wings to keep looking ahead, and not what’s happened before.
“If you worry about things you’ve done in the past you can’t change, that puts stress on you and your body that you don’t need,” Blashill said. “There’s not one thing we can do about what has happened. The other part of it is, we’re process oriented. You look at it and say, OK, how was the process? Well the process was pretty good. We defended well, we checked hard, we were above them. We clogged up the neutral zone (in the last two games).
“We are just trying to grow, and when you are trying to grow as a team and you are trying to grow as individuals, you can’t let the frustrating results get in the way of that growth. Sure it is frustrating at times. Sure you look at your record and you don’t like it. But you have to block that stuff out and move forward.”
The Wings had no practice Monday, so there was no way to decipher any lineup changes (if there will be any). The most pressing question is whether Blashill returns forward Anthony Mantha, who was a healthy scratch Sunday, to the lineup. Given the Red Wings’ success, it’s not likely.
… Forward Givani Smith benefited from Mantha’s absence to earn a Gordie Howe Hat Trick (goal, assist and fight). Blashill is showing confidence in Smith, and the young power forward is responding.
“It feels good. Playing against (Tampa’s Steven) Stamkos, (Florida’s Aleksander) Barkov and especially being on a line with Robby (Fabbri), Bobby (Ryan), Dylan (Larkin) and Z (Filip Zadina), it’s hard to not play with confidence when you look along side of you and you’ve got superstars, just great, hard-working guys.”
… The Wings were pleased to see goaltender Thomas Greiss win his first game in 10 decisions Sunday. Greiss hasn’t received much offensive support this season, and probably should have had several more victories.
“It got to a point where I felt bad it has taken this long,” Fabbri said. “It was good to help him out and get him one (victory). He’s been playing great all year.
“It’s nice we were able to put one through for him,”
Red Wings at Panthers
Faceoff: 7 p.m., Tuesday, BB&T Center, Sunrise, Florida
Outlook: The Red Wings (3-8-2) and Florida (6-1-2) finish their two-game series. … Florida is likely going back to G Sergei Bobrovsky (3.57 GAA, .881 SVS), who has struggled.