The Detroit Red Wings have been a mix of hot and cold this season. In the past three weeks alone the team was outscored 19-4 by the Nashville Predators, swept the Columbus Blue Jackets, were a late power-play goal against away from splitting with the Florida Panthers, and took three out of four games from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes. Detroit’s 5-3-2 record over the last 10 games is good for 14th best in the league through that span, yet the Red Wings are still fourth-worst in win percentage on the season.
There are many potential reasons why the Red Wings have struggled with the Predators and Panthers, yet give equal challenge to the Lightning and Hurricanes. One argument could be that the Lightning and Hurricanes, teams that have made deep playoff runs recently, view the Red Wings as less of a challenge than the Panthers and Predators — teams that feel they still need to prove they belong in the conversation as Stanley Cup contenders.
While any player and coach will be the first to say that in the NHL all teams are created equal, the Red Wings have played teams differently this season.
Hunted By Predators and Panthers
In the first 7-1 loss at the hands of Nashville, the Predators set the tone early by scoring four goals in the first 8:08 of game time. Although one of those goals was scored on the power play, the Red Wings gave up three even-strength goals to Rocco Grimaldi. However, the Wings had eight different forwards get scored on during that stretch — only Adam Erne was on the ice for two of Grimaldi’s first period goals — and had no answers defensively for the Preds. While Detroit was able to settle down and get some of the game flow back in their favor, a couple mental mistakes at the ends of long shifts put the game firmly out of reach late in the second period.
The Red Wings traveled back to Little Caesars Arena following that loss and had what was described by Bobby Ryan as the “hardest practice of the year.” Detroit followed that practice up with a two-game sweep of the Blue Jackets on home ice, outscoring Columbus 7-2. With all their confidence having returned, the team headed to Florida where they faced a red hot Panthers team. It took all of 17 seconds for Jonathan Huberdeau to score as the Red Wings gave up three goals in the first period for the second time in four games. Two nights later, the Red Wings took a bad penalty late in the game and gave up the tying goal to force overtime — eventually losing to the Panthers and getting swept by a combined score of 7-3.
Detroit’s lack of consistency, along with a pair of games coming up against the first place Lightning, had Red Wings fans preparing for another embarrassment.
Surviving the Storms
That weekend saw a back-to-back in Tampa Bay, and again the opposition came out from the drop of the puck. The Lightning noticed that the Red Wings were slow to start and when teams pressured them, Detroit give up chances early. Taking advantage of this, the Bolts struck twice within the first 7:26 of the first game. To his credit, Jeff Blashill did a good job of calming his guys down and sticking to the game plan — shutting down the Lightning the rest of the way. The Red Wings did get one goal back early in the third period to make it a game, but Andrei Vasilevskiy continued to show why he deserves to be in consideration for the Hart Trophy.
The following day, in another move that he should get credit for, Blashill decided to go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen with the hopes to create more offensive opportunities while having more options to help defensively. That, along with the fact the Red Wings were seeing the Lightning’s third string goalie, opened up chances that Detroit was able to capitalize upon. The team started the scoring late in the first, but it was really the second period that saw the chemistry of the lines start to come together.
Detroit returned home content with earning three out of a potential eight points, only to fall apart once again at the hands of the Predators. After giving up another third-period power-play goal, leading to a shootout heartbreak, the Red Wings followed up with a second 7-1 blowout loss. This time they scored first; however, the lead would be short lived. One shift after scoring to go up 1-0, Victor Arvidsson scored his first of three on the night to kick off the Predators’ seven unanswered tallies.
Once again the Red Wings made a trip south to face one of the top teams in the Central. This time, Blashill started out with his 11 forward and seven defensemen lineup, allowing the team to match the Hurricanes goal for goal throughout each period. The result was Detroit’s second shootout in four days — only their second so far on the 2020-21 season — but this time would end in the Red Wings’ favor. Detroit would carry the momentum from that win into last night, where the Wings were led by Jonathan Beriner’s 37 saves and Michael Rasmussen’s two beautiful assists early in the third period to spoil Jordan Staal’s 1,000th career game, 3-1.
So far this season, the Red Wings have seemed to have two types of games: the ones they come out flat and timid and fall behind by a couple early, and the ones where they come out with purpose and drive and are able to match top teams stride for stride. With the trade deadline out of the way and only six rostered players under contract for the 2021-22 season, now is the time for the players to prove they should be part of the revitalization of Hockeytown.
Want more Red Wings content? Tune into The Hockey Writers’ Grind Line — a weekly show on YouTube and Facebook. Check out our most recent show below, and make sure you subscribe to the channel so you don’t miss any upcoming shows.
Born and raised in Michigan, Kyle Knopp started playing hockey when he was 3 years old. Knopp has played, coached, or worked at every level of ice hockey — including three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings where he was part of the Stanley Cup Championship team in 2008. He covers the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers and is the editor of THW’s Morning Skate newsletter. You can follow him on Twitter @THW_Knopp.