Yes, Red Wings have their issues, but they’re actually bringing it vs. NHL’s best

Detroit News

Detroit — The script regarding these Red Wings is slowly being flipped.

The rewrite has come over the first four games of a six-game homestand. What was expected to be a nightly thumping, and deeper burial into the Central Division cellar, has taken a turn.

The Wings have played admirably in four games against defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay and contending Carolina. They earned five of eight points (2-1-1 record) and have a stumbling Dallas team coming in for two games.

Detroit Red Wings center Sam Gagner (89) dives to clear the puck from Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91).

The rebuild is far from complete. But this stretch showed promise.

“They’re obviously two of the best teams in the league,” coach Jeff Blashill said after Thursday’s 4-2 victory over Carolina. “That played out last year and it’ll play out this year. So to get five points is a good step for us as a hockey team.

“Tonight was one of our better games of the season.”

What was impressive Thursday was the way the Wings won.

They looked just as good, or better, compared to Carolina in every facet,. They played the way they need to play to be successful.

“We played fast, hard and managed the puck pretty well” Blashill said. “We weren’t without mistakes, but we created a lot of chances and we played the way real hockey teams have to play.

“It was a good step.”

The Wings are frustrating the better teams in the division due to the following factors:

Confidence growing

The Wings mostly carried play against Tampa and Carolina. They showed no fear.

“We think we have a chance to win every game,” forward Adam Erne said. “We’re playing with confidence and it’s a huge thing for us. We just need to continue to do that.”

Blashill has preached about how the team needs to play to be successful.

Being good defensively, being able to win tough, one-goal games, and being opportunistic are keys.

Now, the Wings are also scoring goals and getting outstanding goaltending, which is adding to the recipe for success.

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

Bernier, very good

Speaking of goaltending.

From the second half of last season to now, Bernier can be mentioned among the better goalies in the NHL. He’s been the team’s most valuable player.

“He’s played great,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “Every time we need it, he makes a great save. He’s been so solid for us, and gives us a chance to win every night.”

Which begs the question: What does general manager Steve Yzerman do with Bernier, a prospective unrestricted free agent, at the April 12 trade deadline?

Several contending teams (Colorado, Pittsburgh, Washington) need experience, or better play, in net.

Do the Wings risk trading Bernier, or simply sign him to an extension?

Detroit Red Wings goalie Jonathan Bernier, left, celebrates with defenseman Filip Hronek.

Scoring

The team that couldn’t score, especially on the power play, turned explosive against Tampa and Carolina. The Wings scored 14 goals over these last four games, getting contributions from a variety of sources.

And that power play, which at its worst didn’t score in 40 consecutive attempts, is suddenly red-hot. The Wings have scored seven goals in their last 24 attempts, with Erne scoring two first-period goals sparking Thursday’s win.

They’ve scored a power play goal in six of the last eight games.

“We’re creating more offense, it’s obvious we’re more confident with the puck, and in this league that’s huge,” Erne said. “We’re making efforts to make plays instead of just making the easy play sometimes. There’s a middle ground we’ve kind of found, where we’re not playing too risky and turning pucks over, but we’re still making plays that are there to be made.”

Improved health

The Wings are 9-17-4 record. But take away that 0-6-2 stretch the first month of the season when they were missing five regulars. That leaves the Wings a more respectable 9-11-2. Close to a .500, an average team. Maybe that’s closer to what this particular roster actually is.

“When we’re fairly healthy we’ve been a pretty solid team,” Blashill said.

The Wings do seem to be trending upward.

“At the beginning of the season we got into COVID trouble and a lot of guys were missing, so it was kind of tough to play,” forward Vladislav Namestnikov said. “But now we’re getting everyone back and healthy and we’re building on that and sticking together and playing well.”

There are only 26 games left in this shortened season. The April 12 trade deadline will likely see a chunk of the lineup head elsewhere for draft picks. Still it will be intriguing to see where this team winds up.

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

Stars at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 Thursday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The Red Wings (9-17-4) and Stars (9-9-7) open a two-game series. … Dallas has had its season upended by COVID issues early, then weather cancellations. … C  Joe Pavelski, 36, is having a turn back the clock season (14 goals, 13 assists).

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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