As the Detroit Red Wings wind down the season, one of the points of emphasis has been the opportunity for young players to earn minutes.
The Wings spent much of their Saturday matinee at Little Caesars Arena defending, trying to hold off the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bag Lightning. The Bolts are in need of points as they battle for home-ice in the playoffs. The Wings are done with their season in three more games.
Thomas Greiss made 33 saves through overtime and Jakub Vrana, Filip Zadina, Valtteri FIlppula and Sam Gagner scored in an eight-round shootout to give the Wings a 1-0 victory. The Wings improved to 18-26-9 in 53 games; last year they went 17-49-5 in 71 games, finishing in last place.
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“We are a much better hockey team this year than we were a year ago,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We’ve won a number of games with young guys in the lineup and that’s a big thing for our organization. That shouldn’t discredit the older guys in the lineup because we had a number of them that have really done a great job here.
“We’re a better defensive teams. Large parts of the year we’ve had better moxie with the puck.”
The Wings struggled to generate offense in regulation, registering in single digits in shots on net after 45 minutes. Their lineup was without the injured Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Bobby Ryan and Robby Fabbri.
The Lightning missed a grade-A chance late in the second period when Ondrej Palat got the puck as he closed in on Detroit’s net. Greiss had slid to the right side of his net, leaving it wide open — but Palat’s shot sank into the side of the netting.
Brayden Point had a similar chance in the third period, again coming up just wide as Greiss had slid to the top of his crease, leaving the net open.
“I’m playing better and I got a couple bounces — there were a couple 2-on-1s, they could have scored because it was an empty net and they just missed,” Greiss said. “Those are big.”
Ryan McDonagh seemed to score from the point in the third period, but the Wings successfully challenged goalie interference.
The teams play again Sunday.
Joe Veleno, a first-round pick from 2018, played in his third NHL game, centering a line between Gagner and Evgeny Svechnikov. Veleno, who spent much of last season’s pandemic layoff in the weight room, has looked noticeably stronger. Early in the second he won a draw against Brayden Point that led to a solid scoring chance for Gagner, whose shot hit the far goal post. Veleno is playing with confidence, having benefitted from playing for Malmo in the Swedish Hockey League.
Blashill used Veleno with Zadina and Gustav Lindstrom in overtime — a lot of trust to put into young players as a unit.
“The time of year, when we are out the playoffs, makes those decisions easier,” Blashill said. “But it’s also what you should do if they’ve earned it. If they hadn’t earned, I wouldn’t have given them those, but they had. I think Joe has been very accountable in the three games he’s played. I think Zadina has worked extremely hard all season. Lindy has had a good game. He’s done a good job. They’ve earned the trust.”
Young D stay in
Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek, both 23, spent another game paired up, while veteran Troy Stecher was a healthy scratch. While Hronek is well established, Cholowski is still trying to impress upon the Wings that he should be a regular. The two are from the 2016 draft (the Wings selected Hronek in the second round with the extra pick they got in flipping Pavel Datsyuk’s contract to the Arizona Coyotes). Cholowski is an NHL-caliber skater, but the Wings have emphasized making decisions with the puck.
Lindstrom, a 22-year-old from the 2017 draft, registered three shots on net. He has done well balancing being responsible defensively and getting shots through.
Great penalty kill
Shots were 28-11 when the Wings faced 1:46 down two skaters. Marc Staal, Danny DeKeyser and Luke Glendening did a masterful job getting in lanes and Greiss contributed two big saves.
“How you kill those is you stay tight, like we did — you block shots, you get a huge save and you get a little lucky,” Blashill said. “They hit a post. That’s how you kill 5-on-3s that are that long against that level of team. The sacrifice was there all night from our team.”
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.