Is this how it happens?
Is this how Hockeytown gets its groove back? Is this how it all starts, with a red-carpet runway leading players into Little Caesars Arena on a promising path to a brighter future?
It’s impossible to tell after Game 1 of 82. But if the Detroit Red Wings’ spirited and improved play in Friday night’s 3-0 season-opening win over the Montreal Canadiens is any indication, the path forward is a promising one primed with potential and some excitement.
The Wings’ new faces were everywhere on a night of jubilation: Behind the bench and on the ice, but most importantly, on the score sheet — four newcomers tallied points.
But the newest face, the freshest face, belongs to left wing Elmer Söderblom, a 6-foot-8 rookie who is on his way to achieving mythical status in Detroit.
Söderblom, already a fan favorite judging by the rousing cheers he received in pregame introductions, made his NHL debut and scored his first NHL goal, which just happened to break a scoreless tie in the third period, making it the game-winner before the Wings got two late empty-netters.
If Söderblom keeps this up, his legend could grow to Paul Bunyan proportions. Maybe we’ll start to hear tall tales about him hanging out with Bigfoot, Elvis and Jim Morrison.
For now, Söderblom will have to do with his mates on the third line: center Michael Rasmussen and right wing Oskar Sundqvist, mere mortals who stand a respective 6-6 and 6-3 and combine with Soderblom to form 19 feet, 5 inches of humungous hockey talent.
Their physical presence was felt from their first shift to their last, helping set the tone for the way Lalonde wants to make it harder for opponents to move on the ice.
“One hundred percent,” he said of the line’s physicality. “I mean, that was the vision for that line together. But then when it came to fruition there, it was very exciting. And I really thought, you know, they set themselves up and they got the hard goal from below the goal line, which was exciting.”
Söderblom had his moments with the puck, stick-handling around a defenseman early and going to the front of the net another time to screen goalie Jake Allen, who was under siege all night.
But Söderblom’s goal wasn’t pretty. It was the ugly offspring of hard work down low, where Rasmussen tried to sneak a wraparound past Allen that bounced out to Soderblom, who flicked in the rebound from the doorstep.
This is what Lalonde wants. Hard work, patience and commitment to puck responsibility that eventually pays off. Because even though the Wings were winning a lopsided stat war with the Habs and outshooting them after two periods, 34-18, there wasn’t anything to show for it.
That why when Lalonde spoke of the victory, he was most gleeful about the nature of the win more than the result itself.
“Well, the important thing is not only getting the first win, but getting it the right way,” he said. “We played a complete game tonight. And you worry a little about the psyche of playing well and not getting rewarded with the outcome. Tonight it all came through for us.”
The Canadiens were the NHL’s worst team last season and there’s little reason to think they’ll make much of a leap this year. But they stuck to their plan of falling back on defense and protecting Allen, who was peppered with pucks all night.
Still, the Wings were tied with a bad team through two periods in the season opener at home, with Vladimir Konstantinov in a suite and the Calder Trophy in the building to recognize Moritz Seider’s excellent rookie season.
Were the Wings really going to lose this game? Was this the way a season with so much hope and promise was going to start?
Then Lalonde did something in the second intermission that might be the hardest thing for a coach to pull off. He asked his players to believe in what they were doing, even though they couldn’t see the results of that work. He asked for their faith.
“Just stay on task, and that’s all we talked about,” he said. “You know this early on there’s so many little things you can pick apart in the game, and that’s what tomorrow morning will be for.
“But just staying on task with it. Don’t chase it, you don’t need to chase it. Because there’s a couple times in the second (period) — and that team will make you pay — we were close to a couple of turnovers. We’re close to mismanaging the puck.”
This was the problem last season under Jeff Blashill. The team lacked a consistent dedication to being responsible with the puck.
Instead, these Wings, newcomers and holdovers, listened to the new guy behind the bench. They kept playing hard in the third period and chipped the puck out to the neutral zone instead of making a sudden dash and getting caught on a line change with a turnover.
It wasn’t the kind of sexy, high-powered offensive game you might see from some of the NHL’s scoring juggernauts. It was more than that, actually. It was the kind of disciplined play that shows an emerging team like the Wings the path to follow for sustainable success.
Contact Carlos Monarrez: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@cmonarrez.