The Detroit Red Wings took advantage of a lull in their schedule to practice making plays in tight spaces, and again focused on winning puck battles.
They don’t play again until Saturday when they host the St. Louis Blues, allowing for a 50-minute practice Wednesday that included small games emphasizing making plays. The mood was light after Tuesday’s 5-1 victory over Winnipeg ended a seven-game losing streak.
“It was huge for us to start good, that is what we have been focusing on,” Tomas Tatar said, after he’d done a reading of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for team personnel. “It just feels way better when you lead. We had 16 shots after the first and they had three, and then we talked about it in the locker room, like hey, we have to continue to play some way, don’t let them get back on the horse.”
“We pressured them all night and just played really good hockey. We had maybe like 18 turnovers. The one in Montreal we had 43. So that is a huge difference. We just have to play the right way, play smart, and the system will take care of us. We just have to continue to be better every day.”
It speaks to how tight the NHL is that the Wings could go through a stretch where they banked just three of a possible 14 points and still remain within two points of third place in the Atlantic Division. It speaks to the Wings’ need to play as well as they did Tuesday, after the poor hockey that defined last week.
“It is a little bit mind-boggling sometimes when you look around this room and see how much talent we have,” Frans Nielsen said. “We find ways to beat ourselves. We can’t stop the bleeding when it’s going on for some reason. It was good to see us show up last night and play that way for almost 60 minutes.
“We just have to realize that was only one game. We have to learn from it and keep doing that. Something has happened lately when we got scored on, but I think we kept playing yesterday. That was another thing that was good to see, that it didn’t bother us too much that they got that goal. We felt good about our game and we just kept going.”
The first period against the Jets was as good a start as the Wings have had all season. It will be needed against the Blues, who, like the Jets, are one of the best teams in the NHL.
“We need to have the same start,” Anthony Mantha said. “We outshot them, we caused a couple penalties, so that is key. I think it came down to being simple — lots of shots on net, easy plays, just giving it to the open guy instead of forcing a play.”
Power play focus
Special teams will come under scrutiny at Friday’s practice. The Wings had two long 5-on-3s (totaling 2:59) and were 0-for-4 during 5-on-4s (5:41). “Our power play let us down,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “It let us down in Montreal in a 3-0 game that you could really change it and make it 3-1, instead it’s 4-0 because you give up a shortie. It’s been in the top 10 here in the last number of weeks. I like that both units seem to have competitiveness to them. I thought the first 5-on-3 was good, we had tons of good looks. The second was no good at all. We’ll work on it. For us to be a playoff team, we have to have both special teams unit probably in the top 10.”
The Wings went back to 12 forwards and six defensemen Tuesday, after experimenting with 11 and seven for several games. Blashill said the latter is “not easy for the defensemen. Sometimes they struggle to get in rhythm. Early when we did it we had success, and we didn’t have as much success later. I also thought, David Booth has played pretty good hockey for us in minimal minutes and putting him there allowed us to be a little bit more of a four-line team. Winnipeg’s top two lines are really good, but we felt we could win the four-line battle.”
The Wings’ first-round pick from 2016, Dennis Cholowski, was among the list of invitees to Team Canada’s world juniors camp. Defenseman Kasper Kotkansalo, a 2017 third-round pick, was invited to Team Finland’s camp.