These Detroit Red Wings have fire and feistiness. Now they need precision

Detroit Free Press

They came out with jetpacks on their backs, and for the first half of the first period cut through the Washington Capitals’ defense like a wire through cheese. They were quicker to the puck and to the boards and when they had the chance to shoot, well, they fired away without hesitation.

It was the kind of onslaught these young Detroit Red Wings keep unfurling in this young season. And, for a while, it felt like they might be on their way to their fourth straight win, and to the kind of momentum that so many remember in this grand old hockey town — or Hockeytown, if you prefer — where one electric moment led to the next.

Except the Wings couldn’t score during the initial jet-fueled blast, stopped either by rookie Zach Fucale’s nifty glove and stick work or by a touch of imprecision within the offensive fury.

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A shot just high, or wide. Or a pass that inched off a stick and lost velocity in the redirect.

Score a goal in the blitz and the Capitals can’t sit back and muck up the middle of the ice. Give up a goal after failing to capitalize on all those chances — the Red Wings opened the period blasting seven shots to the Capitals’ one — and, well, perhaps you saw what happened.

But two goals in 10 seconds?

To a veteran team that’s one of the NHL’s savviest – and toughest?

You risk a slog. Not to mention a shutout, which is precisely what happened after Washington scored two goals midway through the first period, on a Dmitry Orlov one-timer and a single-man rush-and-flip by Lars Eller, who gathered the puck after Nick Jensen slipped it by a Wings defender.

All three Capitals players are at least 30; all three showed the patience hardwired into championship, veteran teams. They withstood the Wings’ barrage and pounced on the slightest mistakes.

Then they sat back, all of them, and frustrated the Wings, shift by shift.

Before the goals, Dylan Larkin said, “we were playing our game.”

And what a game it’s becoming. Fast. Explosive. Creative. Chippy.

Led by Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi and an influx of youngsters, these Wings keep coming. Even after the final horn sounded, Larkin couldn’t help but take the opportunity to bark at the Capitals.

He wasn’t quite smiling, but he was almost grinning. He knows what kind of team he is leading, and he knows where they could be headed.

To get there, though, they’ll have to find more of what propelled them out of the tunnel — and find ways to sustain it even when their foe drops two goals in the time it takes to sing the chorus of “Sweet Caroline.”

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The Neil Diamond classic is a favorite at Little Caesars Arena (and countless other sporting venues around the country). What was notable about Thursday’s rendition was the gusto of its participants.

They weren’t just having fun with a bit of collective karaoke, or merely enjoying a night out of the house while sheltered from some wet and dreary conditions. No, they know their team is forging its way into the joyful part of a rebuild, where youngsters — hello, Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider — begin to announce themselves and young veterans begin to command the ice.

No wonder so many fans stayed until the end — games’ ends no longer feel like foregone conclusions.

Even down a couple goals with a few minutes to go, the crowd (and, increasingly, a wider swath of Hockeytown) understands these Wings can surprise.

Already this team has shown it can come back; it did against these same Capitals a couple weeks ago in Washington. Mostly because the Wings don’t just fight, they bring some juice, if not always precision.

To truly contend for a playoff spot, the precision will have to be there more consistently, mixing with the effort and the speed and the skill. The Capitals may have held the tactical advantage after the two goals in 10 seconds, forcing the Wings to the perimeter and then meeting them there. But the Wings didn’t help themselves, either.

Too many giveaways killed their best scoring chances, though calling them giveaways is understating it.

There were mishandled passes that crept away from the stick, breaking momentum or forcing a restart in the neutral zone. There were hesitations on one-timer possibilities, especially on the power play, and most egregiously during a 5-on-3 advantage.

There were mistimed passes across the top of the zone and pucks that just seemed to float in the creases. The Capitals got to most of them a tick or two faster. Not because of a speed advantage as much as an experience advantage.

Sometimes the fear of a mistake causes a moment of indecision, and those moments of stasis are the difference in hockey. And yet, the Wings continue to do things they wouldn’t  — or couldn’t — a year ago. (Heck, dating back over the last several seasons.)

Like kill penalties.

And bully the best teams in hockey for extended stretches.

And create buzz, though Larkin and head coach, Jeff Blashill weren’t interested in that kind of “participation” talk after the loss.

“We have to find ways to be sharper,” said Larkin.

“We have to get past (hesitation on power plays) and have more of an attack mentality,” said Blashill. “We will work through that.”

Fifteen games into the season, it’s hard not to think he is right. The Wings may not have found the net Thursday night, but they are finally finding an identity.

And in the kind of game that might have turned ugly not so long ago, they found a way to hang around and give the fans even more reason to sing at the top of their lungs.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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