When the Detroit Red Wings took on the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals a night after downing the Los Angeles Kings at home, it was apparent early on that the Red Wings still had quite a way to go in their rebuilding efforts. Dylan Larkin, however, stood out as a bright spot on what was otherwise a paltry showing.
Sure, it was the second game of a back-to-back near the middle of an exhausting 82-game schedule. The Red Wings were also banged up, prompting the insertion of Luke Witkowski into the lineup and the recall of Brian Lashoff. But the team just couldn’t muster much of anything – Frans Nielsen’s line was rendered completely ineffective, Capitals players were left wide open in front of a defenseless Jonathan Bernier, and the Red Wings really couldn’t establish any sort of sustained offensive zone time or team chemistry, while Washington dominated from start to finish.
Larkin was the only Red Wings player who stood out (positively) on the ice. Not only for his offensive contributions, but his leadership as well.
After the Washington game, Larkin spoke with reporters regarding the team’s effort.
“We are not getting pucks around the net as much as we were,” Larkin told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. “We’re trying to set up the pretty play. There’s a lot of one-and-dones and we’re aware of that. We’re trying to minimize that. We switched up the units a little bit. We need to create chaos around the net more and bang in a rebound. That’s all it will take.”
That attention to detail is exactly what the Red Wings lacked against Washington and, to an extent, versus Los Angeles the night before. It didn’t matter to Larkin that he followed through on the game plan—pucks in deep, pepper the goalie with shots, create havoc in front of the net, and play with speed and tenacity—the team failed to achieve their goals.
Larkin, along with the other team leaders, were at least able to rally the Red Wings for the third period, when they outscored Washington 2-1.
“We talked about the Boston game and then going onto Montreal,” Larkin also told the Detroit Free Press. “We needed to make sure we were playing the right way and a detailed game. We did that.”
Detroit’s next captain kicked off the scoring early in the final frame off of a Nick Jensen rebound. He was involved in the second goal as well, despite not factoring in on the box score.
6020+ Minutes of Hell
Against both the Kings and Capitals, all of Larkin’s shifts exemplified the way that the Red Wings should be competing. Their “60 Minutes of Hell” preseason slogan seems to have disappeared, but Detroit’s young center still plays his game in that manner.
In fact, he was the only player on the Red Wings to compete that way against Washington.
Whether it was generating a shorthanded breakaway, getting open for high-danger shots, or ferocious back-checking, Larkin gave 100 percent throughout the game, despite all the excuses that could have been made. Bumps and bruises, a lack of sleep, a well-rested opponent – it did not matter.
Detroit’s likely All-Star Game representative certainly embodies the right way the game should be played, but he needs more support. Following through on the game plan during Larkin’s shifts alone is not enough to win an NHL game, especially one against the defending champions.
With Larkin leading the way, the team needs to step up and produce in all facets of their game. That’s the only way this team can be competitive as they rebuild – through consistent effort, attention to detail, and relentlessly attacking opponents. Skill alone will not get the job done.
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Winning Breeds Commitment
On a more positive note, when the Red Wings are winning, it’s usually a result of the team competing as Larkin does.
Against Los Angeles, Detroit capitalized by using their speed and aggressive forecheck to create chances. All three goals were similar in that regard – the Red Wings gained possession, quickly transitioned, and caught the Kings off guard.
If the team can create opportunities similar to these every night, they’ll win more games. And if they follow Larkin’s lead on the ice, the turnovers, drawn penalties, and opponents’ frustration will result in more goals for.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.