Improving team defense, special teams will be Derek Lalonde’s priority with Red Wings

Detroit News

Detroit — There are areas the Red Wings need to improve upon, but new head coach Derek Lalonde identified two throughout Friday’s introductory news conference.

The Wings have to get better defensively and they need to improve on special teams.

The Wings missed the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season, and ultimately cost Jeff Blashill his job as head coach, largely because of those areas.

“For me, it’s going to be the process in some obvious things — our team defense, special teams improvement, no different than any other team throughout the league,” Lalonde said.

The Wings ranked 31st out of 32 teams in the NHL allowing 3.78 goals-against. No NHL team is going to be able to overcome those types of numbers.

Now, inconsistent goaltending was partly to blame, but the Wings’ defensive structure wasn’t good enough most evenings.

“If we take care of the process in doing the little things, if our team defense improves through our stopping of pucks habits, our risk in our game, our management of the puck, then we’ll be improved and hopefully that takes care of itself,” Lalonde said.

The power play ranked 26th, at 16.3%, continuing a trend of multiple years where the Wings haven’t been dangerous enough with the man advantage.

The penalty kill ranked last in the league, killing penalties at a 73.8% clip.

“In today’s NHL, special teams is a big part of it,” Lalonde said. “That’s a goal for every staff and will be a big goal for our staff.”

While coaching against the Wings this past season as an assistant in Tampa Bay, Lalonde was impressed with Detroit’s roster. There was a good collection of young talent that competed hard and stayed in the playoff race until the middle of the season.

“We want to be a team that is hard to play against,” Lalonde said. “It was always an interesting process playing Detroit because the team you were talking about, that was flirting with the playoffs at midseason, that was a really hard team to play against. So that gets you excited on what could be.

“The goal is to be a little more consistent with things. Some of the young talent, I don’t see them every day, I’m not in the everyday process with them but you see these guys play and the impact they make at such a young age, it’s very exciting.

“Obviously, not all the pieces are there but at the same time there’s some exciting pieces to build around. It’s attracted me to this job in that you could see some foundation being built.”

Stinging loss

It’s been a whirlwind for Lalonde, who was behind the Lightning’s bench on Sunday when Colorado defeated Tampa, 2-1, in Game 6 to win the Stanley Cup.

The defeat ended Tampa’s two-year streak with the Stanley Cup and streak of 11 consecutive playoff series victories.

But being so close to a third consecutive Stanley Cup victory, and seeing it fall short, was difficult.

“The playoff run, that one stung a lot,” Lalonde said. “To be that close, obviously the way our team was sacrificing and playing, it was amazing. The better team won the Stanley Cup, Colorado was the better team. But with that said, as a coach it stings because it was a winnable series in some ways, so there will always be a little regret with that.”

Viewing habits

General manager Steve Yzerman and Lalonde offered different takes on ESPN’s “E60: Unrivaled” documentary regarding the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry.

Lalonde doesn’t sleep much as it is, and even less during the playoffs. Then when Yzerman called regarding the coaching position, Lalonde slept even less.

Lalonde was going to get a good night’s sleep the other night, but noticed the E60 documentary was about to start. He was going to record it, then got swept into watching.

“I was back to a three-hour sleep night,” said Lalonde, adding he did enjoy the fact the Avalanche were being beaten and defeated by the Wings in the documentary. “That did bring joy to me.”

Yzerman, who is a central figure in the documentary given his role as the Wings’ captain during the timespan and is featured prominently in the documentary, couldn’t really comment.

Because of the search for a new head coach coupled with preparation for next week’s Entry Draft and free agency the week after that, Yzerman hasn’t had much time to watch television.

“At night, I fall asleep,” Yzerman said. “Maybe after I get through the draft and in the summer when things quiet down I’ll have the chance to watch it.”

Ice chips

Lalonde will immediately begin to contact players, adding relationships with his players are a vital part of his coaching style.

“That first conversation with each individual will be very important to establish those relationships,” Lalonde said.

… Lalonde will put together a coaching staff and appeared pleased that Alex Tanguay, the lone assistant remaining from Jeff Blashill’s staff, remains on board.

“He checks off a lot of boxes for me, with his playing background and offensive mind,” Lalonde said.

… During the two-month coaching search, Yzerman considered coaches with different levels of experience and different levels of hockey. Ultimately, Lalonde’s personality and success was a determining factor.

“The more I looked into it, the more I was thinking this is a person who’s a really good fit for this job,” Yzerman said. “There’s people, whether it be players, people in the front office, people around the city, that vouch for Derek and really know him. Looking at his resume, getting references, background checks, speaking with Derek, I really understood his values as a man, as a coach.

“Where we’re at as a team, it seemed like this was a great opportunity to bring in a coach with tremendous experience at various levels and part of a very good staff and a very good program (in Tampa).”

Twitter: @tkulfan

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