Columbus, Ohio — Maybe it wasn’t necessarily taking a game over, but there was a play during Saturday’s game that defenseman Filip Hronek didn’t like.
Hronek was on the ice when Columbus tied the game early in the second period. Hronek didn’t look great on the goal against.
Which all led to Hronek standing out the rest of the period, and game, and leading the Wings to a convincing 6-1 victory over the Blue Jackets.
“What I liked was, he got beat on the goal against, something he hasn’t done, one play, and he hasn’t done that all year,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “He took it a little personal. So, he got his game going and he ended up scoring twice, he got his five-on-five game going, and he wanted to pick the team up after that, which is real good, playing for your teammates.”
The two goals gave Hronek four on the season, along with 10 assists for 14 points, in 18 games, nearly a point per game clip. Hronek’s plus-eight rating trails only Dylan Larkin (plus-nine), and analytically, many of Hronek’s numbers rank near the best in the NHL.
It’s been a rather startling turnaround for Hronek, 25, who struggled with his consistency last season, was a healthy scratch on occasion, and was rumored to be trade bait in the off-season.
Instead, Hronek has arguably been the Red Wings’ best overall defenseman as the season nears the quarter-pole.
“He’s just keeping his game simple,” said Lalonde, who wanted Hronek to take out the risky plays Hronek too often has been associated with. “He’s been a nice player all year long for us, and now he’s getting rewarded with some offense.”
Some of Hronek’s success could be attributed to the fact he’s been playing with veteran Olli Maatta, a pairing that has clicked from early as training camp.
Maatta’s defensive mindset has blended well with Hronek’s offensive skills, although Hronek has played a competent and tight defensive game, as well.
In fact, against Columbus, associate coach Bob Boughner (defense/penalty kill) matched Maatta and Hronek against Columbus’ top line featuring star forward Johnny Gaudreau. The Wings’ pairing neutralized the line effectively.
“Olli helps him,” Lalonde said. “Olli plays a defensive game, a calming, simple game. Olli makes Filip simplify his game and for the first time all year, probably, and it’s a credit to Olli and Hronek, Boughs was matching those guys up against their top guys, where it’s been Mo (Seider) and (Ben) Chiarot all year.
“They handled it well, give them credit.”
The offense Hronek, Seider (three assists) and Chiarot (goal) provided, and various defensemen provided throughout the 2-1-1 four-game road trip was an added bonus for the Wings.
“It helps spread our offense out,” Lalonde said. “I like that offense is coming from our defense also, but we’re just simplifying our offense. It’s more about getting bodies and pucks to the net. That’s what happened (against Columbus), and (Thursday in San Jose) also.”
Seider, for one, isn’t surprised by Hronek’s hot streak offensively.
“He’s been playing amazing,” Seider said. “When he’s out there on the power play, too, he’s been leading the way. He’s definitely a leader in our locker room.”
Successful road trip
The 2-1-1 record on this trip gave the Wings five out of a possible eight points. It wasn’t great, but it was definitely good enough, a positive week.
“I’m just really happy with the way they responded, not only on the road trip but the way they responded within these last couple of games,” Lalonde said. “It’s a long season, but there are little pockets within the schedule that you kind of challenge your team. Especially after losing game one (in Los Angeles) and game two slipping away the way it did (in Anaheim, in overtime), we come back to take five of eight points, five of the last six.
“The guys won the road trip. Now it’s on to the next challenge.”
The Wings now have a five-game homestand, with Nashville, Arizona, Toronto, Buffalo and Vegas coming to Little Caesars Arena.
Goaltender Ville Husso started the last three games, helped earn points for the Wings in all three games, and is earning the bulk of the playing time over Alex Nedeljkovic.
Husso (7-2-3) made 26 saves Saturday and was key in the first half with some timely saves, until the Wings got rolling.
“He had a sneaky good game because we were on our heels in the first and we got a little loose at times, and this is a real good transition team and they’ll put you on your heels,” Lalonde said. “You end up needing a couple of saves and we got that from Ville.”
Getting consistent starts, said Husso, has helped his rhythm and timing.
“It’s always easier when you win a couple games, you get in (the lineup) over and over, it helps,” Husso said.