Why Detroit Red Wings need every one of their eight exhibition games

Detroit Free Press

TRAVERSE CITY — As one player put it: There are going to be mistakes, but that’s what exhibition games are for.

Dominik Kubalik’s observation resonates all the more with the Detroit Red Wings given the makeover they’ve undergone. They have a new goaltender, new defense pairings to sort out, and new line combinations to explore. New head coach Derek Lalonde, who formerly was an assistant with Tampa Bay, is relieved to have a long preseason as the next step in preparing for 2022-23.

“It’s the first time and the only time in my NHL career that I’ll be happy to have eight games,” Lalonde said Monday, on the Wings’ last day in Traverse City. “To me six is good, seven is maybe a little too much. Eight seems very excessive. But I understand, there’s a business aspect to it. For us this year, it’s going to be beneficial.”

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The rosters will be balanced by minor leaguers to offset the hectic pace — to start, the Wings play at Pittsburgh Tuesday, and host the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday — but the emphasis is on finding chemistry for the group that will take the ice Oct. 14 when the Wings open the regular season. Lalonde, who is in his first season as head coach, has one line that makes sense to carry over from last year in Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi and Lucas Raymond, though Bertuzzi’s status depends on how quickly he re-appears after an undisclosed injury sidelined him the second day of camp. Andrew Copp is recovering from abdominal surgery and expected back the first week of the season. Oskar Sundqvist, who has yet to practice because of an undisclosed injury, is also among those not available. He and Bertuzzi are considered day-to-day.

“It’s a little frustrating to have three or four or five of our top nine out for camp to start, but it’s given an opportunity for other guys to get some looks,” Lalonde said.

“Some of our games, we’ll work back from a special-teams standpoint. We’ll have a special-teams unit and try to get that organized and designed, and then we can work back the roster from there with the idea of getting certain guys a certain amount of games, certain amount of looks. It will certainly change throughout.”

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Filip Zadina got a look in Bertuzzi’s spot during camp, as did Jonatan Berggren. David Perron and Jakub Vrana are likely to be linemates, possibly with Michael Rasmussen as placeholder until Copp’s available. Kubalik and Zadina could end up manning the wings on the third line.

Eight games will be plenty to give both Alex Nedeljkovic and newcomer Ville Husso enough starts to get comfortable. On defense, Moritz Seider has spent camp paired with Ben Chiarot, Filip Hronek with Olli Määttä, with a presumptive third pairing in Simon Edvinsson and Gustav Lindstrom — but Lalonde has repeatedly said there’ll be lots of experimentation during preseason to see who gels with whom.

“We haven’t really stressed about it,” he said. “I couldn’t give you any looks at all. We are going to take the full eight games and let it play out and go from there. We do put a lot of time into a ballpark matrix. We basically a guy a number we want to see and then work back from there. It never works that way. It changes daily. It’s already changed many times. But we ballpark what we want to see out of each guy.”

What Lalonde wants to see, starting Tuesday, is how well the Wings are implementing the emphasis on playing good team defense.

“We have to take a step every day,” he said. “Establishing some compete, some attitude, work on all those things. I feel fortunate we have eight games this year to fine-tune somethings before our home opener.”

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 latest book, On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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