Wings’ confidence grows as wins mount
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.”
Dylan Larkin, center, gave the Red Wings an electric jolt with his overtime winner in Toronto on Thursday night.