A couple former first-round picks helped the Detroit Red Wings feel much better about themselves.
Their Sunday matinee against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Little Caesars Arena was buffered by two empty-net goals that gave the Wings a well-earned 4-1 victory, their second in a row.
“It was our most complete effort from start to finish of any game this season,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We sustained our forecheck way more and because of that, the ice was tilted toward their end way more. I was proud of our guys for how hard they played.”
Calvin Pickard did what he needed to do for a second straight start, making 16 saves.
It’s only the third time the Wings (12-20-4) have won consecutive games this season. This nascent winning streak was needed after the 7-1 rout Thursday at Nashville.
“It’s everything,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “With how it was going and having to answer the questions — it was tough. We all knew after that Thursday night game in Nashville that wasn’t nearly enough of the effort and compete and the way we need to play.
“We answered the bell. I’m proud of our guys.”
Evgeny Svechnikov, the Wings’ first-round pick in 2015, and Michael Rasmussen, the ninth pick in 2017, made it 2-1, and Filip Hronek and Vladislav Namestnikov scored empty-net goals 21 seconds apart late in the third period.
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The Wings go back on the road, with games this week at the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. They leave feeling significantly better than when they arrived, boosted by showing character.
“I really like our guys,” Blashill said. “I like the competitiveness, I like the self-accountability, I like that they looked in the mirror after that game and they came out to practice Friday and practiced their tails off and then showed up on back-to-back games. It’s four straight days of it being pretty hard and they just kept working.
“They want to be a better team than our record is. We haven’t been a good enough team and they know it. They want to be better. They were embarrassed on Thursday and did an unbelievable job responding.”
He was placed on waivers before the season began, then left off the taxi squad. But when he’s given a chance, Svechnikov finds a way to make his case. Midway through the first period he got the puck from Darren Helm, skated to the middle and ripped a wrist shot behind Elvis Merzlikins.
“Geno is a big, strong guy and has a great shot, which you saw,” Larkin said after Svechnikov’s third goal (and fifth point) in eight games. “Svech hasn’t been in the lineup a lot and he did a really good job,” Blashill said. “He was coming off a change and talked to Helmer and was able to get the puck and bury it. And he can score. I think he’s working on his all-around game and he did a good job.”
Larkin described Pickard as “rock solid. He was the X-factor these past two games. Anything they got, he was there to make the big save.” Teams usually use different goaltenders on back-to-backs, but Pickard was the logical choice to make both starts. Thomas Greiss was pulled Thursday after allowing three goals on seven shots. He has won just two games, the second of which was the March 18 game against Dallas when Jonathan Bernier left late in the second period with a lower-body injury. Greiss’ goals-against average is 3.51, and his save percentage is .885. When Jack Roslovic scored, Pickard had gone 66:42 between goals. Until he gives them a reason not to start him, Pickard will be in net until Bernier returns. It’s a nice development for a guy who started the season as the third-stringer, and his teammates couldn’t be happier for Pickard.
“He brightens up the room,” Larkin said. “He’s such a great guy. He’s a worker. He’ll do anything in practice — he’ll stay out until the last guy is out there. Always has a smile, always has a joke or a one-liner. He’s just a great teammate and a great professional. We are all pretty pumped for him. We know he’ll be ready and he’ll perform for us.”
Injury list grows
Bobby Ryan suffered an upper-body injury and did not return after the first period; the Wings already have been without top-six forward Tyler Bertuzzi since Jan. 30. Ryan scored his seventh goal of the season on Thursday. He’s not only valuable in the lineup, but as a trade asset who will appeal to contenders looking to shore up for a playoff run. Blashill said he would have an update on Ryan Monday, adding that this upper-body injury is unrelated to the one that sidelined Ryan for two games in mid-March.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.