How things might have gone had the Detroit Red Wings pushed back in late February has been lost to the unknown, but it is a situation the team wants to address.
Being tough, as a team, doesn’t only mean fighting, but it is vital to letting opponents know they can’t resort to cheap shots. Dylan Larkin acknowledged the Wings’ lack of toughness Tuesday, parsing the difference between pushing back and hitting back.
“There were plenty of times this year I felt guys took liberties,” Larkin said in his end-of-season availability with reporters. “Whoever it was, whatever their role on the other team — their tough guys — they kind of had free nights. I think that’s something that needs to be addressed, to have an answer to that.”
It is first and foremost the NHL’s responsibility to punish transgressors, via in-game penalties or postgame disciplinary action. But what constitutes a liberty and what doesn’t is, to a degree, subjective. It took only one night of the NHL playoffs to offer an example, with controversy erupting after Dallas Stars center Joe Pavelski left Monday’s game after a massive hit by Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, who received only a two-minute roughing penalty on the play.
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The Wings had their own issues with the Minnesota Wild back in December, when Ryan Reaves bulldozed then-Wings defenseman Filip Hronek on open ice, ending Hronek’s night. There was no penalty on the play. When Reaves hit Gustav Lindström later in the game, Ben Chiarot responded by dropping the gloves for a brief punch-up.
Coach Derek Lalonde said the day after the Wings’ season ended that toughness is an area that needs to be improved. The starkest example of a time the Wings needed more toughness were those two games against the Ottawa Senators that closed the month of February, when the Wings were beaten up and beaten down, losing 6-2 and 6-1. “You don’t need to fight, but you do need to stick up for teammates and push back,” Lalonde said.
Yzerman made the point that he doesn’t “have to go out and get somebody 6-6, 250, to go out and beat people up,” echoing Lalonde’s comments that toughness can come from within the locker room.
The Ottawa games were a bad look for the Wings, but two weeks later, they played back-to-back games against the Boston Bruins, engaging in a physical, energetic series and more than holding their own. The Wings have stood up for one another, like Chiarot did for Hronek and Lindström, but opponents have at times targeted young stars Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider, and those are the kinds of cheap shots the Wings need to push back against.
“You can’t have Mo Seider step up and look over his shoulder all night,” Larkin said. “But in terms of playing competitive games, where it’s just battling and competing, I think we’re there. The Ottawa games were more so where those tough guys were running around and we didn’t have an answer for it.
“But when we stuck together, when we played hard, guys blocked shots — we had countless injuries with broken bones and guys doing it the whole season. So I thought we really competed together and you saw scrums and guys were in there together, sticking up for each other.”
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.