Wings’ con­fi­dence grows as wins mount

The Detroit News - - Sports - BY TED KULFAN The Detroit News

Detroit

Are the Red Wings on the verge of a break­through sea­son no­body, ab­so­lutely no­body, would have pre­dicted?

Thurs­day, af­ter de­feat­ing the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 in over­time on Dy­lan Larkin’s break­away goal, you couldn’t help but won­der.

There’s grow­ing con­fi­dence and op­ti­mism sur­round­ing these Wings. With each pass­ing vic­tory — and a largely medi­ocre East­ern Con­fer­ence — the fu­ture sud­denly looks in­trigu­ing.

“We’re a pretty good team in here our­selves,” said for­ward Gus­tav Nyquist, who found Larkin on the goal, and had a goal and two as­sists against the Leafs. “We be­lieve in our­selves and we’re go­ing to do that all sea­son long. We’ll fight hard for each

— Is some­thing brew­ing? other and it’s good to see.”

No­body is re­ally link­ing the Wings with the No. 1 over­all pick any­more. That bat­tle for Jack Hughes seems des­tined to be set­tled among Chicago, St. Louis and Los An­ge­les.

Ac­tu­ally, Fri­day af­ter­noon, the Wings were only two points from an East­ern Con­fer­ence wild-card spot.

Since Oct. 26, the end point of a bru­tal month of hockey for the Wings, they have a 12-5-2 record and look noth­ing like the mess of the open­ing weeks.

“We col­lec­tively fig­ured out what our game is and how we are go­ing to give our­selves a chance to win ev­ery night,” de­fense­man Mike Green said.

What the Wings ac­com­plished this week has be­gun to raise eye­brows amongst many hockey peo­ple.

Fac­ing Bos­ton, Colorado, Tampa and Toronto — four of the bet­ter teams in the NHL, and four teams who’ve de­feated the Wings of­ten in re­cent sea­sons — the Wings went 2-1-1, earn­ing five of a pos­si­ble eight points.

For large parts of each game, the Wings were the bet­ter team.

In­stead of los­ing these games and fal­lling back in the stand­ings, the Wings are win­ning and mov­ing up­ward.

“You walk into this stretch and you had Bos­ton, you had Colorado, Tampa and Toronto, you’re play­ing some of the best teams in the league,” coach Jeff Blashill said.

“Even the Colorado game, it’s re­ally a 1-0 game (the Wings lost 2-0, with an empty-net goal), we were in a po­si­tion to win.

“So it just con­tin­ues to show our play­ers that when we do it the right way, when we play the way we’re ca­pa­ble of, we can take on any­body in the league.”

The Wings are with­out de­fense­men Trevor Da­ley (lower body) and Danny DeKeyser (hand), and for­wards An­thony Man­tha (hand) and Darren Helm (up­per body), and didn’t have Tyler Ber­tuzzi the last two games be­cause of his sus­pen­sion.

But de­spite the sig­nif­i­cant pieces out of the lineup, other play­ers are con­tribut­ing and help­ing the Wings not miss a beat.

“That’s huge, that’s what you see in good teams — depth, scor­ing and guys chip­ping in ev­ery night,” said Larkin, who leads the Wings with 26 points (11 goals, 15 as­sists).

“A dif­fer­ent hero ev­ery night. You’re see­ing that, and it’s good to see guys com­ing in.

“Megs (Wade Me­gan) played great (Thurs­day) and Eh­ner (Christof­fer Ehn) com­ing in for Mo (Man­tha) and Bert (Ber­tuzzi).

“It’s good depth in our group and finding ways to con­trib­ute.”

Larkin also likes the way the lines are set up cur­rently, with a mix­ture of grit and speed wo­ven through the lines.

“There’s chem­istry on the lines, speed on ev­ery line,” Larkin said. “We bat­tle and we play for each other.

“We’re play­ing good hockey right now. We just played two games against the top teams in the East­ern Con­fer­ence (Tampa, Toronto) and for the most part, we were the bet­ter team both nights.”

Of course, and the Wings are say­ing this, too — it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber they are only play­ing their 30th game of the sea­son tonight, against the New York Is­lan­ders.

More than half still ex­ists.

But if they can main­tain the vic­to­ries, and stay close to a play­off spot, it will def­i­nitely make for dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions for gen­eral man­ager Ken Holland come late Fe­bru­ary at the trade dead­line.

At that point, if the Wings are close to a play­off spot, do you trade po­ten­tial free agents such as Gus­tav Nyquist, Jimmy Howard and Thomas Vanek (who must OK it, given his no­trade clause) for valu­able draft picks?

Or do you sim­ply main­tain the roster, and see what they’re ca­pa­ble of ?

That’s for two months down the road.

Right now, the Wings are rel­ish­ing be­ing in this spot, af­ter such a mis­er­able start.

“Our guys un­der­stand you have to keep play­ing,” Blashill said.

“We’re con­tin­u­ing to get bet­ter, which is the No. 1 thing.”

the sea­son

Nathan Denette/As­so­ci­ated Press

Dy­lan Larkin, cen­ter, gave the Red Wings an elec­tric jolt with his over­time win­ner in Toronto on Thurs­day night.

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