How Detroit Red Wings’ Dominik Kubalik is trying to recapture early season scoring touch

Detroit Free Press

As he nears the finish line on his first season with the Detroit Red Wings, Dominik Kubalik is trying to regain the confidence he had when it began.

The top-six forward has endured an offensive slump that has him going back to basics.

“It’s all about those little things — skating and getting the puck to the net and then being around there,” Kubalik said. “Just trying to create. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes you have games where you are feeling it and you are getting chances and shots. That’s what I am focusing on.”

Kubalik looked like a bargain of a free-agent signing back in October, when he rewarded the two-year, $5 million contract handed out by general manager Steve Yzerman by pumping four goals and six assists into the first six games. Kubalik was on the fourth line in the season opener and again the next night, but when top-six wingers Tyler Bertuzzi and Jakub Vrana were sidelined two games into the season, Kubalik was promoted to the first line.

Just past the quarter point, at 25 games, Kubalik had 25 points.

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That early pace was not sustainable, but his drop-off has been dramatic. Entering Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks — his former team — Kubalik had five goals and five assists the previous 27 games. Since coming out of the All-Star bye week, he had just three goals and one assist in 14 games.

The difference, coach Derek Lalonde said, is assertiveness.

“When he was scoring early on, head down, puck was going to the net, he was shooting with authority,” Lalonde said. “Now you can see maybe at times when he is not at the top of his game, he thinks it through too much — is he pass first, is he shooting it? I just think a little more for him being a shooter, having tunnel vision.”

Lalonde and his staff have emphasized the same message to Kubalik as to other wingers: Get to the net. It’s all the more imperative now that the Wings have traded away Bertuzzi and Oskar Sundqvist, two guys who both had that in their wheelhouse.

“We keep showing guys, just get some inside position,” Lalonde said. “It’s a simple thing. It probably goes unseen a lot, but getting to the inside, you’d be surprised where one or two more battles where you get to the inside, your looks are different.”

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Kubalik has 17 goals in 62 games, second on the team only to Larkin’s 23, but Bertuzzi missed 10 weeks recovering from separate hand surgeries and Vrana only played five games. Kubalik already has topped the 15 goals he scored last season with the Blackhawks, and equaled what he had in 2021. He’s short of the 30 goals he scored as a rookie in 2019-20, but that was the season Kubalik played on a line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Kubalik created such excitement and expectation when his every touch of the puck seemed to make something happen back in October and November. He is likely to record a 20-goal season, which is a good return on $2.5 million a year, but better consistency remains a goal.

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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