Red Wings shore up team defense during win streak

January 5, 2018 GMT

Detroit – Team defense was supposed to be a problem for the Detroit Red Wings this season.

And at times it has been.

But during this three-game win streak, entering Friday night’s game against the Panthers, the Red Wings have been – from a team perspective – as good defensively as they’ve been in a long time. They’ve given up four goals in the three games.

“We did some good things,” said defenseman Niklas Kronwall, noting there were still some areas he’d like to see improved. “We have to do it for 60 minutes because this is a tough league. There are bits and pieces of the last three games we can be better at. But we did some good things.”

Since their 10-1 debacle of a loss in Montreal Dec. 2, there’s been only one real stinker – the 6-1 loss to St. Louis on Dec. 9 – and that one was marred by a few fluky goals. The team defense has been tighter, the careless turnovers have been cut down, and the goaltending of Jimmy Howard has been crucial.

The Wings are giving up 3.05 goals per game to rank 22nd in the NHL. The Kings are the stingiest at 2.32.

More: Wings hope Athanasiou’s breakout here to stay

“We’ve played, since probably the Montreal game, even the St. Louis game, we’ve played real good defensively,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We’ve limited chances against. The last game (Wednesday’s victory over Ottawa), was a season-low for chances against despite the shots we gave up (34).”

It’s not just that Howard has been outstanding stopping shots, but it’s the way he’s been stopping those shots that’s helped the defense.

“The way he’s been managing his game, sucking up pucks and not kicking pucks to the slot and taxing your team defensively,” Blashill said. “Good goaltending and good team defense go hand in hand. You need both to win consistently in this league.”

Kronwall points to one area where the Red Wings have struggled at times – getting the puck out of their zone quicker.

“We can do a better job, especially in our defensive zone,” Kronwall said. “We have to be a lot quicker than we have been, and it’s something we work on every day.

“Just winning pucks back quicker. At times we are spending too much time in our own zone for no reason. That’s one area we’d like to clean up, recovering the puck faster and go on offense.”

‘Little nagging stuff’

Henrik Zetterberg didn’t participate in Friday’s morning skate, but Blashill said he expected Zetterberg to be in the lineup against the Panthers.

Blashill hinted Zetterberg, just as many other Red Wings, are battling nagging injuries as the season approaches the halfway point.

“This time of year guys have little nagging stuff, and he’s (Zetterberg) not any different from other guys on this team,” Blashill said. “Part of the reason we didn’t practice (Thursday) was we wouldn’t have enough guys available to us (for practice). It’s nothing that’ll keep them from games, but they have nagging injuries this time of year.”

From that perspective, after Sunday’s game against Tampa, the Red Wings have their league-mandated five-day break, which could be coming at just the right time.

“We get another break to hopefully get some rest,” Blashill said.

Ice chips

The Florida Panthers arrived in Detroit Friday morning after having their game in Boston Thursday cancelled because of the winter storm in the Northeast.

The Panthers didn’t have a morning skate, and instead went straight from the airport to the hotel.

...The Red Wings’ game in Chicago Jan. 14 has been switched from a night game to an NBC nationally-televised afternoon game (12:30 p.m./Channel 4).

...Andreas Athanasiou’s overtime goal Wednesday was the fastest overtime goal – six seconds – in Red Wings history, and tied for the fastest in the NHL history.