Detroit Red Wings playing how ‘real hockey teams have to play.’ Here’s what has changed

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings feel good about themselves, the best they’ve felt since they opened the season.

They face a miniseries against the Stanley Cup runner-up Dallas Stars next, buoyed by having taken five of eight points from the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning and from the Carolina Hurricanes, both teams that are contending for the Central Division title.

“I think we’re creating more offense,” Adam Erne said after scoring twice in Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over the Hurricanes. “It’s obvious that we’re more confident with the puck, and I think in this league, that’s huge. We are making efforts to make plays — there’s a middle ground that we’ve kind of found where we’re not playing too risky and turning pucks over, but we’re still making plays when they are there to be made. That’s big for us.”

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Over the past week the Wings lost in overtime to the Lightning, and then scored a season-high six goals on the Bolts. The first game against the Canes ended with a 2-1 loss. To come away with a 2-1-1 record against such elite opponents — each of which pulled the goaltender — reinforces the hard work the Wings put in even as they dropped to the bottom of their division. When they play hard, play fast and manage the puck well, good results follow.

“We played the way real hockey teams have to play,” Blashill said. “It was a good step. We played a number of games where we played pretty good hockey and we didn’t have results to show for it. Now we’re in a spot where we’ve played pretty good hockey and we’re starting to see some results. It’s important reinforcement for guys to keep their belief up.

“We’ve got lots of season left. Let’s continue to grow as a hockey team and continue to grow as individuals.”

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The Wings (9-17-4) improved to 6-7-3 at Little Caesars Arena with one of their best performances of the season. Erne converted on two power plays in the first period, connecting on Filip Zadina’s rebound on the first one and using Michael Rasmussen as a screen on the second one. The Wings have power play goals in six of their last eight games, solidly distancing themselves from a stretch where they didn’t convert in 14 straight games.

“We’re scoring on a more regular basis on the power play,” Blashill said. “That’s a big aspect of it.”

That’s bred confidence the Wings haven’t had since they opened the season 2-2. One week into the season, five players were in COVID-19 protocol. Then Jonathan Bernier got hurt. He’s been their MVP; he made 35 saves against the Canes on Tuesday, including one that required flopping onto his belly.

“He’s been amazing,” Erne said. “He’s been super solid and playing really, really well.”

It’s helped to get Dylan Larkin back from a four-game injury layoff; he has two goals and two assists in the last four games. His return has allowed other forwards to slot into the right spots. Filip Zadina has been solid, with two goals and four assists in five games. Rasmussen has helped ameliorate the absence of Tyler Bertuzzi, who has been out since Jan. 30 with an upper-body injury.

Defenseman Filip Hronek has been phenomenal; he scored his first goal of the season Tuesday and his eighth point in four games.

The Wings never trailed after Erne made it 1-1.

“We feel pretty good about ourselves,” Erne said. “That’s the way we want to play every night and hopefully we can continue to do that, because that’s leading to us beating some of the better teams in the league.

“We think we have to a chance to win every game. We are playing with confidence and that’s huge for us.”

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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