MONTREAL — This is the identity the Detroit Red Wings are forging, the one they talked about before the season began.
Four games into their 2019-20 campaign the Wings are 3-1, earning victories against expected contenders Nashville, Dallas and, most recently, in Montreal, a place they hadn’t won in regulation in a dozen years. They’ve closed out games where they’ve had the lead, they’ve overcome deficits. They’ve won at home, won and on the road.
“Our identity is never going away,” Dylan Larkin said. “Relentless work ethic and just never going away. We did that. They scored to make it 1-1 and we come back and make it 2-1 to go into the intermission. It was a huge third period for us on the road, but we made it about us and we played a great game.”
His team had just defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 at Bell Centre, a place the Wings hadn’t won in regulation since Dec. 4, 2007. They stomped on a nine-game losing streak against a divisional opponent. Coach Jeff Blashill joked he sacrificed by eating three hot dogs before the game instead of the two that has been his routine since he became Wings coach in 2015, but really, the focus was not on how the Wings seemed cursed against the Canadiens.
“What we did talk about is this is a team that’s finished ahead of us,” Blashill said. “This is a team we want to finish ahead of. In order to finish ahead of them, you have to beat them.”
The last time the Wings were in Montreal, on March 12, they were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They’re a long ways from being in playoff discussions, but these opening week performances impress.
“It’s no panic,” Larkin said. “No panic in our game.”
The Wings have young players in key positions: The top line of Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi are ages 23-25. Defensemen Filip Hronek and Dennis Cholowski are 21. They’re maturing, showing they can win tight games. In their lone loss, Tuesday vs. Anaheim, they veered from their identity.
“We’re playing great hockey right now,” Mantha said. “We’re fast, we’re playing a lot in our o-zone. We need to keep playing that way.”
Mantha scored the winning goal before his hometown crowd Thursday. Jonathan Bernier made 33 saves, six of them during power plays. Larkin set up Bertuzzi. Darren Helm and Luke Glendening scored first and last, respectively. Glendening created two shorthanded scoring chances. Christoffer Ehn drew two penalties.
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“We also know one of the best ways to score in this league is to score those dirty goals with chaos and I think we can do that,” Blashill said. “I think the biggest thing is, if we check well, we will get our offense.
“These are the types of games for us to be successful, we’re going to have to win. We defended fairly well most of the game and when they got chances, Bernie was excellent.”
The Wings aren’t flashy beyond the top two lines, but Blashill trusts every line, feeding into the focus on team defense. It’s only four games, but they’re making good on that determination to shock doubters.
“We’re sick of losing,” Blashill said. “So if you’re sick of losing, you make choices on a daily basis to do things that are going to separate yourself. We can separate ourselves with our work ethic, we can separate ourselves with our sacrifice. We’ll let other people talk about our skill.
“(Former GM) Ken Holland used to say one of the best skills is will. We’ve got lots of will in that dressing room so when you talk about skill, you have to include the will part of it. We certainly have that.”
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter.
Published at Fri, 11 Oct 2019 04:17:00 +0000