How Detroit Red Wings found something to build on against defending champions

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James | Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings have something to build on — and something they don’t want to hear in their building again.

For a team that has struggled as much as the Wings have, pushing the defending Stanley Cup champions to overtime was a step forward. They meet again Thursday at Little Caesars Arena, with the Wings hoping to snap what’s become a four-game skid.

They lost, 4-3, to the Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday, but considering the lopsided losses of the previous three games, it was an improvement.

“We had some jump,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “It felt like one of the better games we’ve played. We had jump, we played together. We battled. We play like that for a while, we are going to get some results, which is what we are looking for.”

Larkin made it 3-2 during the second period, one of the Wings’ best periods of the season. The game was a reinforcement of why a net-front presence is vital: Adam Erne scored when he got the puck at the crease, and Patrik Nemeth scored because Filip Zadina screened Andrei Vasilevskiy

“The Zadina screen was a big one and that’s what you need,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “You have to make it hard on the other goalie. You have to be in front of his eyes as much as possible. Even the best goalie in the world, if you can’t see the puck, you can’t stop it, and that’s what happened on that goal. I think we’ve done a fairly good job of getting to the cage. We have to keep working on getting pucks through, and we have to make sure we have some depth to our attack at the net, that we don’t just have three guys standing right on the cage.”

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It was the Wings’ first game at Little Caesars Arena since Feb. 25. Having 750 fans in the building for the first time energized, but the horn that malfunctioned throughout the first period was aggravating.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Blashill said. “The refs made the decision to play through the horn, which probably was a good decision, otherwise we would have been stopping every 30 seconds. But it was totally crazy.”

Larkin echoed the confusion.

“I don’t know what was going on there,” he said. “You take a split second to think about it and then realize you have to keep playing. It was something I’d never seen in a hockey game.”

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It was Larkin’s first game after missing four because of an upper-body injury. He skated well, controlled the puck well, and had a nice chance in overtime. But with an eye towards the next game, it was an earlier period Larkin hopes the Wings can replicate.

“Our second period was really good,” he said. “We played on our toes. Even our start to the game, we were hard to play against. We played the right way. We created shots and pressure. I think we can’t go through a whole period there in the third where we just sit back and let a team like that come in waves and defend our way into two points.

“It’s important to defend the right way, but we have to have some shifts where we are creating in the o-zone to keep them hemmed in and keep their big players in the defensive zone and keep the puck out of their hands. I would like to see more of that Thursday night.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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