Detroit Red Wings’ secret to early surge: ‘Just have to worry about the next shift’

Detroit Free Press

Part of being a good team is knowing how to win in different situations, and the Detroit Red Wings demonstrated an example of that the last time they played they played the Washington Capitals.

The teams meet again Thursday at Little Caesars Arena, two weeks after the Wings rallied from a two-goal deficit to win in overtime at Washington. The Wings hit a bumpy patch soon after that victory, but they’ve righted themselves with their first three-game winning streak in two years. That includes closing out a victory against the Oilers that required fortitude in the third period when a three-goal lead was reduced to one.

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“It’s almost like you have to have that same mindset as myself — you just have to worry about the next shift,” goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic said Wednesday. “You could feel momentum build on their side — they got a late one in the second, they score first shift in the third. Not ideal. But things happen and that’s the game. You have to be able to move and to recover.”

The steady goaltending Nedeljkovic and Thomas Greiss have provided has been huge, but more than that, the skaters have shown their mental fortitude on numerous occasions. The Wings began the season by wasting two three-goal leads against the Tampa Bay Lightning, undoing their good work with repeated trips to the penalty box. The Wings still came away with a point, helping them build a 7-5-2 record.

“For a team that’s learning how to win, I think we’re doing a good job of staying in games,” Nedeljkovic said. “There are a few games where we’ve come from behind in the third period — we found a way to win in Buffalo. We came up a little short against Florida, but we were right there. (Tuesday) was a huge game to build off for confidence. We have the lead and kind of let them back in and we found a way to win. That’s what good teams do. It’s not always going to be pretty, but they find ways to win and at the end of the day, two points is what matters.”

Beating good teams like the Oilers and Capitals builds confidence. The Wings look like a significantly better team than the previous two seasons — and they should, based on their increase in talent. Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider rank first and second, respectively, in the rookie scoring race. (Raymond did not practice Wednesday because he had a maintenance day, according to coach Jeff Blashill. Filip Hronek and Marc Staal were also off.) All in all, there’s enough depth to roll three lines capable of scoring and three solid defense pairings.

“We’ve infused some talent, so that gives you chances to make plays that can get you back in games,” Blashill said. “That’s not necessarily a learning process as much as our talent has grown and matured, and we’ve infused some. Last time we played Washington, or coming back against Florida — we stayed in the game longer.

“There’s a maturity level, when you get down by a couple goals, to not play loose, to understanding there’s still lots of time and you have to keep playing the right way.. If you get down and you start giving up tons of chances, it’s likely one of those is going in and now you’re down more goals. It doesn’t do any good. You have to make sure your game plan stays the same as when the game started.”

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The Wings consistently failed to do that in 2019-20, the season in which they were the worst team in the NHL, with just 17 wins before the pandemic shut everything down. Despite the Wings’ roster makeover, the players left from that miserable season — a group led by Hronek, Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi — are more experienced. They set the tone when the Wings fall behind by a couple goals, as happened Oct. 27 at Washington.

“Our go-to guys on our hockey team, a lot of them are young, or in the world of the NHL, middle-aged at best,” Blashill said “It’s a learning process. I think we’ve gone through some different things the last couple years, and some of the guys that have been around have learned from that, and as we go through this season, we’re continuing to learn. I thought we did a better job last night than we did the previous game, even though they scored early in the third, of doing some things better than we did against Vegas, and certainly better than we did against Tampa. We just have to keep growing and getting better.”

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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