The Detroit Red Wings will need their younger stars to step up in 2017-18 if the team has any aspirations to once again reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and apparently, some of those players got the memo on opening night. Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Martin Frk each found the back of the net in Detroit’s 4-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday evening. Henrik Zetterberg, the lone veteran goal scorer for the team, notched the game’s go-ahead goal in the third period.
On a night where the Red Wings not only kicked off their 2017-18 season, the organization also began a new chapter in their already storied history by playing the first regular season game inside the impressive Little Caesars Arena. With the weight of the 25-year playoff streak finally lifted and no guarantee of an immediate return to postseason contention, Hockeytown’s talented young forwards offered glimpses of hope in an otherwise uncertain future.
While Detroit’s overall team performance against the Wild still leaves a lot to be desired in the long-run, winning the inaugural game in their awe-inspiring new home will be something that the players and coaches can certainly build off of. However, the more important fact is that some of the youngest Wings were given the opportunity to shine, and they did not disappoint.
Mantha, Larkin, Frk Combo Clicking
One of the Red Wings’ best, if not the best, line combinations this preseason was the group of Frk, Larkin, and Mantha. The trio’s chemistry during exhibition play carried over noticeably into the first game of the regular season. Mantha became the first goal scorer in Little Caesars Arena history after slamming home a power-play goal in front of the net near the end of the second period. It was a goal that the 23-year-old winger envisioned scoring earlier in the day:
“I was thinking about it all day,” Red Wings winger Anthony Mantha said. “(Was thinking) it would be fun if I could get the first goal.”
Frk, whose preseason performance earned him a roster spot with the club, tallied his first career goal and assist during his professional debut in Detroit. To make the story even better, it also all occurred on his 24th birthday. It’s only fitting that he assisted on Mantha’s goal, and likewise, Mantha on his. While his NHL roster spot will be something that the Czech-born winger will have to consistently work for all season long, he’s already making some good first impressions.
Not to be outdone, Larkin also scored a goal while the Red Wings were on the man-advantage, and less than thirty seconds after Mantha buried his. Having two of their youngest and most promising stars score quick, back-to-back goals, electrified the crowd at LCA and was warmly welcomed after Detroit’s lackluster offensive performance during the 2016-17 NHL season.
The Wings converted on two of their five total power play opportunities, a step in the right direction for a team who finished 27th in the league last season with a 15.1% success rate. With the NHL expected to crack down on slashing and other rule violations in 2017-18, being able to capitalize on special team chances will be an area of focus for every team as the year goes on.
Jimmy Howard Lends a Hand
After much offseason drama and speculation between the pipes for the Red Wings, Howard did his part in helping his team win their first game of the season. Despite facing more shots than his counterpart at the other end of the ice for the entire 60 minutes of play, Detroit’s veteran goalie stood on his head and earned his 200th career victory in the process.
After the game, Detroit’s head coach, Jeff Blashill, praised his goalie as the difference maker in the contest:
“I thought Jimmy was great all game,” said Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill. “The difference in the game is Jimmy. The 5-on-3 is a big moment. I thought our killers did a great job.
“I thought Jimmy was solid all game.”
Like the dynamic players who skate in front of him, the 33-year-old netminder will need to have both a healthy and productive year if the team wants to compete in the postseason next spring. Often plagued by injuries, usually occurring as he’s posting all-star like numbers, Howard could find himself solidifying his starting job in net if he is able to remain healthy and consistent.
It was an exciting opening night under the bright and bountiful LED lights in Hockeytown, but there is still a lot of work to be done by a team looking carry on a historic legacy, while simultaneously trying to forge a new identity. Only time and trial will reveal the answers – until then, just enjoy the ride.