The Detroit Red Wings, outside of the Montreal whitewashing, have been a lot of fun to watch this year. For a 4-2-2 team, it’s certainly seemed better than the record indicates because the games this season have been more engaging with action and offense–something that was missed significantly from the last few seasons.
But there have been little moments in each game that have revealed a team growing and potentially turning the corner out of the rebuild. There was yet another moment Friday night that showed this team is gelling and doing what it takes to not only be in every game, but have a chance to win it, too.
Here are eight observations from last night’s 3-2 overtime loss to Florida:
1: The sequence that saw Adam Erne, and Robby Fabbri sacrificing their bodies to block shot after shot was incredible. It reminded me of a shift Kirk Maltby had way back in 2002 when he blocked three shots without a stick against St. Louis in the playoffs. You saw the same thing from Erne and Fabbri, where Erne was hobbling and blocking while Fabbri all but leapt in front of the puck like it was a live grenade about to detonate near a teammate.
Not to be outdone, Alex Nedeljkovic made a sliding save, killing a chance at a goal. Danny DeKeyser, God love him, shattered his stick trying to clear the puck and it took one more insane effort to send it out. But the crowd noise, the appreciation for the effort of players diving into the low slot desperately to keep the puck out of the net was incredible.
2: Which leads me to write that it’s the first time since Gustav Nyquist evened up the game against Tampa Bay in Game 4 of the 2016 quarterfinals that I’ve felt my energy surge as a Red Wings fan. Dylan Larkin’s goal the other night against Washington was up there as well, but seeing the team sacrifice like that with the raucous crowd noise as the backdrop reminded me of why I love the sport–and the Red Wings so much.
3: Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider continue to make this team so damn fun to watch. That anticipation of what could be is morphing into what is and boy, does it make any Wings fan giddy for the future. Raymond’s slick move through two Panther players on the power play that was only snuffed out by a Sergei Bobrovsky glove save showed again the other world talent he possesses. Meanwhile, Seider continues racking up assists, now notching seven in six games, one of only four Red Wings to do so in team history. One of those guys–the very man who drafted him.
4: Alex Nedeljkovic is also settling in and it appears that both the netminder and the team are feeding off of one another. Go back to the 7-6 loss to Tampa Bay and though they rang the Bolts up for six goals, there was a different feeling that they fought through it in spite of coughing up two leads. Seven games later, and after the aforementioned sequence where it looked like every player on that ice had the back of their teammate. It’s a cohesiveness and a unity that hasn’t existed in a long while.
5: Head coach Jeff Blashill has taken a lot of crap from the fanbase–some of it warranted by some puzzling decisions at times–but that sequence looked an awful lot like what Blashill has been preaching for what seems his entire tenure in Detroit. The Athletic’s Max Bultman wrote an article last year encapsulating Blashill’s philosophy and this is what he wrote to complete the article:
The best I can distill the Red Wings’ apparent approach (in theory) is this: If the franchise’s young players are going to need to learn to score while playing responsibly in order to win, the Red Wings would rather make it the baseline from Day 1 — forcing them to learn to score in sustainable ways now, rather than unlearn the “easy” way later.
Will it work? Time will tell. But as risk and reward go, it certainly fits the theme.
Whether you agree with it or not (and man, was it some boring hockey to watch last year), it can be argued that the talent level has increased significantly this season. While being responsible in their own end, Detroit can now push play outside its own zone a bit more, allowing them opportunities to tie or win games late, chances that didn’t seem to exist in the past because either one, or the other just didn’t exist in tandem for the team. Maybe that’s changing.
6: Pius Suter’s goal was a sight for sore eyes and some hard work rewarded through some games where the young center seemed to be on the wrong side of luck. With two points (1-1) in eight games, Suter’s oZS% is at 43.9%, far below his career average (albeit a season’s worth) of 56.9%. Suter has been relied heavily upon more on defense, which puts his slower start offensively more into context. After the goal, Suter’s reaction was one of not only excitement, but one of relief, too.
7: Michael Rasmussen continues to puzzle, and it can only be expected that if Joe Veleno gets the call, Rasmussen might be the odd man out. Mitchell Stephens is a right hand shot and brings more in terms of speed than Rasmussen, and though he drew a penalty last night, the bigger step many (including myself) though Rasmussen would take still hasn’t emerged. Maybe it just requires some more time, but with more prospects banging on the door, one can only wonder how patient Blashill will be.
8: Finally, ESPN + had a pretty lackluster debut with Red Wings fans. At times it felt like there were issues with feedback, and the camera work at times left something to be desired. I’m sure in time it will improve. But at the conclusion of the game, the in-studio crew complete with John Tortorella were nothing by complimentary of the Red Wings’ efforts and growth.
A little love on the national stage. Things are slowly coming around.