Red Wings showing improvement, but Derek Lalonde wants bigger sample size

Detroit News

Detroit — There’s a definite sense the Red Wings are better, and just one look at the standings will prove that notion correct.

Going into Monday’s game, the Wings had a 11-5-4 record (26 points), which was their best 20-game mark since 2010-11 (14-4-2, 30 points).

If the playoffs were to begin Monday, yes, the Wings would be in them. Barely, but they would be playing in the postseason.

But, there are 62 games left. A little over four full months of hockey remaining. And many twists and turns of a typical hockey season to be experienced.

Coach Derek Lalonde, though pleased with the 20-game start, wants to see more of a long-range view of his team.

To Lalonde, this still constitutes a small sample size. Get back to Lalonde around the midseason point, around 40 games.

“You start getting into that 40, even what we call dog days, into that 50-, 60-, 70-game range, now it’s a battle of attrition,” Lalonde said. “Everyone is at the top of their game (at that juncture). We’re still some time away from that.”

The Wings have improved in every major statistical category compared to the end of last season. What pleases Lalonde most, is the progress defensively.

There have been three major blowout losses to New Jersey, Buffalo and the New York Rangers (22 goals allowed) which skew the Wings’ defensive numbers worse than what they could be. The Wings entered 14th in goals-against, a dramatic improvement over last season’s 31st ranked showing (3.78).

“We’re not rolling out what these top teams are rolling out (offensively), which is fine,” Lalonde said. “We know what we are and who we are, but for the most part, especially lately, our five-on-five defense has been pretty good.”

Lalonde mentioned last week how the “vibe” in the locker room is good, what with a four-game win streak heading into Monday’s game and the improvement in the standings.

General manager Steve Yzerman’s offseason additions have worked in seamlessly and deepened the lineup. There seems to be a growing confidence.

“There’s a belief every day coming to the rink that we have a good chance to win,” said forward Andrew Copp, one of the summer free-agent signings. “As soon as you get that feeling in the room, it’s really good, just walking into the room knowing you have a good chance to win if you play your game.”

Dividing the workload

Goaltender Ville Husso was slated to get his sixth consecutive start Monday, as the Wings continue riding Husso’s recent hot streak.

Alex Nedeljkovic, who last got a start Nov. 12 in Los Angeles, will get at least one start in the next two games on this homestand, against either Buffalo (Wednesday) or Vegas (Saturday).

“We don’t want to overplay Ville, we don’t want to get into a stretch where he’s not who he is because he’s playing tired,” Lalonde said. “We expected to get Ned a game in this homestand, and I still foresee doing that. It might be two. Hopefully it plays itself out from there where we want to get him (Nedeljkovic) in because of his performance.”

The Wings claimed goaltender Magnus Hellberg off waivers last week, for insurance. But for now, there are no plans to work Hellberg into the playing rotation.

“I don’t know if we have Hellberg playing right now,” Lalonde said. “We had the roster spot, we wanted depth at that position throughout one through five (including the goaltenders in minor league affiliate Grand Rapids), so our immediate plan is just where we’re at.

“Ville, while he’s playing like he is, and Ned will get the net again soon, and then we’ll re-evaluate from there.”

Ice chips

Defenseman Gustav Lindstrom (lower-body) is ready to play, but isn’t unable currently to crack the lineup with Jake Walman and Jordan Oesterle playing well as the third pairing.

“We have full confidence in playing Lindy,” Lalonde said. “He would not have warranted coming out (of the lineup), (it was) due to injury obviously. Our (defense) corps has played well.”

Joe Veleno is solidifying his spot in the lineup, centering the fourth line with Jonatan Berggren and Pius Suter.

“The minutes are going up,” Lalonde said. “Trusting him with the first shift after special teams, we had in a shut down situation a couple times after a power play. He’s done a good job. You can see some confidence in his game.”

“That line has had some great chemistry.”

Twitter: @tkulfan

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