The Detroit Red Wings practiced in Dallas ahead of tomorrow’s rematch against the Stars (8:30 PM EST start on FSD Plus/FS SW/97.1 FM), and the Wings did post some visual proof thereof (and, as you can see by Givani Smith’s presence at practice, the Wings’ moving of Smith and Taro Hirose to the taxi squad is merely a “paper transaction”):
Afterward, the Wings held media availabilities with Taro Hirose and Jeff Blashill…
And there is some concern about Dylan Larkin’s status for tomorrow’s game, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted in his practice report:
There was a big piece missing at Red Wing practice Wednesday in Dallas. Forward Dylan Larkin did not participate, Blashill said during a Zoom call with media. Blashill said he is optimistic Larkin will be in the lineup when the Red Wings play Thursday in Dallas.
Larkin’s absence had nothing to do with COVID-19 protocol, Blashill said, so it was some sort of physical injury.
“Again, I don’t think it’s going to be anything that’ll force him to miss the game, but we’ll see,” Blashill said.
Larkin played a season-low 17 minutes, 4 seconds during Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime loss in Dallas, having missed a chunk of time during the second period.
If Larkin were to miss Thursday’s game it would be a gut-punch in terms of missing the team’s leading scorer through seven games (six points), but also weakens a center position that has seen its depth chipped away. If Larkin isn’t able to play, “everybody” must contribute more.
“When you are missing guys, and again, I don’t anticipate missing Dylan, but when you are missing guys, everybody has to play great,” Blashill said. “We have more to give.”
According to MLive’s Ansar Khan, the Red Wings are last in the NHL scoring, having produced 1.86 goals per game over the course of their 2-4-and-1 record, and that means that a team stretched for depth at forward is attempting to produce offense without straying from its defensive style…
“How do we score more? Either guys burying their chances, or we have to do a better job scoring the dirty-type goals with chaos at the net,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “(Dallas) is not an easy team to find our offense against. They’re extremely good defensively. They’ve got a couple elite defensemen (Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg) and a really big D corps and they play well structurally.”
Whatever they do, Blashill said it is vital they play the kind of tight-checking game they did in Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Stars.
“If we can be in a lot of games that are 1-1 late in the game, it’s a good spot for us,” Blashill said. “We got to find a way to win those. You win them with making a play on the power play when you get those opportunities. You win them by making a critical play at a critical moment. But we want to be in as many of those tight games in the third period as we can. To do that we got to make sure our defense is great.
“(Henrik) Zetterberg used to say this a lot, you got to be OK with nothing happening on a shift. You can’t force things. You have to attack when the opponent is vulnerable. If you force it, generally bad things happen. I thought we showed maturity (Tuesday) in just laying pucks behind them and being OK with that.”
The path to more offense leads through the power play, where Detroit has converted only 3-of-20 opportunities (15 percent), two in the same game by Tyler Bertuzzi. Fabbri, Zadina and Gagner are regulars on the power play.
“Just more puck execution so we stay in the zone longer, that would be No. 1 by a country mile,” Blashill said. “Lots of times we’ve given the puck away, not really trying to make plays, just poor puck management, both on our entries and in the zone, so then you’re not in the zone long enough. The more you’re in the zone, the more tired the (penalty killers) get and the less they think clearly.”
The Free Press’s Helene St. James focused her practice report on the Wings’ inability to finish their scoring chances…
While the Wings looked considerably better than in their Chicago series, their inability to finish on scoring chances — Blashill had them at 13-10 in Detroit’s favor — left them one consolation point. They blew a man advantage with 4:09 to play, as Larkin’s unit with Ryan, Tyler Bertuzzi, Anthony Mantha and Filip Hronek never threatened to score. The other unit, patched together from Namestnikov, Hirose, Michael Rasmussen, Mathias Brome and Christian Djoos at least managed to keep the puck in Dallas’ zone and create a scoring chance.
“It was a huge moment in the game and we had a chance to win it with a power-play goal,” Blashill said. “Ultimately, it’s puck execution probably more than anything else. I thought on our entries we were in good position to establish possession time and we didn’t execute the way we needed to. We needed to make a different play than what we did. So ultimately that group has to execute at a higher level. The other group did have a good little run on the power play there — the one time they kept it in the zone, they had a shot-tip opportunity, and if they are able to execute higher, then they will go out first more.”
And St. James took note of the Wings’ absences:
Four of the players on COVID-19 protocol — Filip Zadina, Robby Fabbri, Sam Gagner and Jon Merrill — see power-play minutes, and Zadina and Fabbri made up two-thirds of the second line, so being without those players does have an impact. But Larkin’s group has high-end talent, and should be more dangerous. Again, Blashill pointed to puck execution.
“That would be number one by a country mile for me,” he said. “We’ve had lots of times where we have given the puck away, turned the puck over, not really trying to make plays — just poor puck management, both on our entries and in-zone, and so then you are not in the zone long enough. And the longer you are in the zone, the more tired the PKers get and the less they think clearly. So I would start with that.”
The patchwork power play may benefit from opponents not knowing the players well: Brome has played seven NHL games, Hirose and Rasmussen have played less than 100 games and Djoos has played 122.
“Maybe at times hopefully we are able to surprise them, having less time out there than some of the others,” Hirose said. “We’re always talking to each other on the bench and when Lark’s unit is out there, we are watching to see what the penalty kill is doing and talking to each other and translate that to the ice.”
Overall, coach Blashill told DetroitRedWings.com’s Josh Berenter that the Wings are a work in progress right now:
“We were better defensively [Tuesday], the way we’re going to need to play in order to have a chance to be successful. We’re going to be in lots of those tighter games,” Blashill said about Detroit’s performance in the series opener against Dallas. “So that’s a positive, but I just think our execution still needs to be better. While it was good that we were better defensively, I still think there’s way more from more people.”
The Red Wings began the season 2-2-0, winning the series finale against two teams that were in the playoff bubble last season, but Detroit struggled against the Original Six-rival Chicago Blackhawks and suffered a disappointing overtime loss to Dallas Tuesday night, despite giving the Stars their first deficit of the season.
Blashill said if Detroit hopes to earn a third series split against a playoff team from a season ago, his club needs to improve its puck execution and special teams.
“We’ve got to keep grinding at it,” Blashill said Wednesday afternoon. “We saw, last night, a power play that’s extremely dangerous and is at a historic level from the Dallas side. But it can win you games, especially if we’re able to play the way that we did last night. We were pretty sound defensively, didn’t give up many chances. You’re going to be in a lot of those close games and special teams makes a huge difference.”
The Red Wings have struggled offensively to start the season, earning just 1.86 goals per game, but Blashill said if his team plays the way it’s capable defensively and takes advantage of opportunities, low-scoring defensive battles could benefit Detroit.
“There’s not going to be easy offense. And to be honest with you, I think we’ve got to be okay with being in games that are 1-1,” he said. “If we can be in a lot of games that are 1-1 late in the game, I think it’s a good spot for us. And then we’ve got to find ways to win those. You win them with making a play on the power play, you win them with winning that specialty teams battle and you win them by making a critical play in a critical moment.”
As for the match-up heading into Thursday, the Associated Press posted a short game preview…
BOTTOM LINE: Detroit heads into the matchup with Dallas after losing three in a row.
Dallas went 37-24-8 overall and 12-9-3 in division action in the 2019-20 season. The Stars averaged 2.6 goals on 30.6 shots per game last season.
Detroit finished 9-13-1 in division play and 5-26-3 on the road during the 2019-20 season. Goalies for the Red Wings allowed 3.5 goals on 32.5 shots per game last season.
The teams play for the second game in a row.
INJURIES: Stars: Roope Hintz: day to day (lower body), Jamie Benn: day to day (lower body).
Red Wings: Darren Helm: day to day (health protocols).
And the Stars have personnel issues of their own, as noted by the Dallas News’s Matthew DeFranks:
[On Tuesday] Dallas was without captain Jamie Benn, speedster Roope Hintz, playoff hero Joel Kiviranta and checking winger Blake Comeau on Tuesday night. That’s not counting the long-term absences of Tyler Seguin (hip) and Ben Bishop (knee) due to offseason surgeries.
Still, the Stars have opened the season 3-0-0 for the first time in a decade, and are one of two remaining undefeated teams in the NHL. Florida is the other, and both teams have had four games postponed due to COVID-19.
“We know they’re all going to play, but it’s important that we’re missing all those key guys last night, that you find ways to win games,” Bowness said. “It’s nice to get everyone in and playing. But it’s not going to do any good if you’re losing games. We all know we’re beat up. We all know we’re missing a lot of key guys. It’s important that we do everything we can to try to win games now.”
Encouraging signs are there for the Stars, but clarity on who is available is tough to find. Benn skated after morning skate Tuesday and with the team Wednesday, a seemingly quick recovery for the captain after Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson fell on his right knee Friday night. On Wednesday, though, he appeared to be skated as an extra on the fifth line with Jason Robertson and Julius Honka.
On Wednesday evening, Bowness told The Ticket that Benn was doubtful to play Thursday.
“He skated yesterday and he was sore. He skated again today and felt much better,” Bowness said. “It’s very doubtful he will play tomorrow, but at this point we’re hoping he will play this weekend.”
Comeau followed a similar path to Benn, and looked like a placeholder alongside Tanner Kero and Joe Pavelski as Alexander Radulov took a maintenance day Wednesday. The Stars expect Radulov to play against the Red Wings on Thursday. Wednesday was Comeau’s second practice with the team since Jan. 16 after he missed the start of the season in the league’s COVID-19 protocol. Hintz was not on the ice Wednesday but remains an option to play against Detroit, while Kiviranta’s spot on injured reserve means he will be out until at least Saturday night.
“Roope, we’ll see what he’s feeling like in the morning,” Bowness said. “If he skates, he becomes a game-time decision. If he doesn’t skate, we’ll have to make that call tomorrow.”
With bodies coming in and out of the lineup, DallasStars.com’s Mike Heika suggested that the strong goaltending of Stars starter Anton Khudobin is that much more important…
After three games, the 34-year-old netminder is leading the NHL in goals against average at 0.99 and ranks second in save percentage at .958. That hot start has made it easy for the Stars coaches to ride Khudobin, who is expected to get his fourth consecutive start Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings.
While Bowness said he knows that rookie Jake Oettinger will play a big role this season, he also knows that Khudobin can handle the load right now and knows how to win games.
“We’re not surprised with what we’re seeing, because we’ve seen it the whole time he’s been with the organization,” Bowness said of the fact Khudobin has been great as a backup and as the No. 1 goalie when Bishop was hurt during the playoffs. People who don’t watch our team play a lot might say ‘Who’s Khudobin?’ But, to us, that’s what we expect from him. We’re not surprised.”
Khudobin has been a backup for most of his career, so carrying the load is a bit new. However, he said playing in 25 of 27 playoff games helped get him ready for this season. He currently is not on the ice on off days, and instead sharpens his game with morning skates.
“We played like this in Edmonton, in bubble,” Khudobin said of his routine. “We played every other day, so I like to get sweat and feel the puck in the morning before the game. And when you’re playing every other day, next day (after game), you take a rest, do something in the gym. But (before game), I like to get the feel of the ice, like to get the feel of the skates, equipment, puck … and then just play.”
And DallasStars.com posted a set of facts and figures going into Thursday’s game:
The Stars come into Thursday’s matchup riding a five-game home winning streak (5-0-0) against Detroit, while also earning points in each of the last seven games (5-0-2) against them at American Airlines Center.
Dallas owns a 6-2-0 record over its last eight games against the Red Wings and has points in eight of the last 11 (7-3-1) against them.
Defenseman John Klingberg shared the team lead on Tuesday night with two points (1-1=2) against the Red Wings. Klingberg has now registered nine points (3-6=9) over his last seven games against Detroit, including logging points (3-2=5) in three of his last four against them at home.
Forward Denis Gurianov registered two assists (0-2=2) in Tuesday’s contest, marking his first career points against the Red Wings.
Netminder Anton Khudobin turned aside 20 of the 21 shots he faced against Detroit on Tuesday night. Khudobin comes into Thursday’s tilt having won each of his last two (2-0-0), and three of his last four games (3-1-0) against the Red Wings.