The Detroit Red Wings did a very good job of out-working the Nashville Predators en route to a 3-1 victory on Saturday night, and the Wings’ weekend gets harder as the team hosts the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday evening (7:00 PM EST on FSD/Sportsnet/97.1 FM).
As posted by AWood40 on YouTube, the Red Wings’ first goal on Saturday came from an unlikely source in Luke Witkowski:
Our friends from Nashville were still relatively satisfied with their effort, as they told NashvillePredators.com’s Brooks Bratten:
“I thought we did a lot of good things out there tonight, but at the end of the day it’s not enough,” [coach Peter] Laviolette said. “I give Detroit credit, they played hard, they checked hard, they defended hard, they blocked a lot of shots and were able to walk out with the two points.”
“I thought we played well,” Preds defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “We had a lot of shots, we had a lot of good chances and we were competing hard. That’s a fast team over there. They worked just as hard, and they earned that win. I thought we did a lot of good things, but there are obviously still areas to improve. I think from Juuse [Saros] out, we had a solid effort, it just wasn’t there.”
Detroit took a 1-0 lead when Luke Witkowski scored his first NHL goal by beating Saros on a breakaway, and Gustav Nyquist gave his club a 2-0 advantage before the period was out.
After a scoreless second period, Craig Smith gave the Predators life when he scored on the power-play to snap an 0-for-21 streak and get Nashville on the board. But with a minor penalty taken late for either side, Detroit iced it with an empty-net tally to give them the last goal of the night.
“I think we worked hard tonight, and we had a lot of energy,” Predators Captain Roman Josi said. “Everybody cares in this room, and everybody is trying, but we have to get back to 100 percent playing our way. When we are at our best, we get pucks deep. With our forechecking, it’s so hard for other teams to break out – we have zone time, we have a lot of pressure – but we’re doing that a little inconsistently right now. We have to make sure we do that for 60 minutes, and that’s how we win games.”
The Predators will host Ottawa on Monday night before traveling to Detroit to face these same Red Wings on Tuesday – two more chances to get back into the win column and play to the level those in the Nashville room know they’re capable of.
“For me, it was a step in the right direction,” Laviolette said. “A power-play goal [means] we’re doing the right thing out there. At the end of the day, though, like I said you have to score goals. If you score one goal a game you’re going to lose a lot of games. So, we have to find a way to put that puck in the back of the net.”
Laviolette was complimentary toward his opponent, as noted by NHL.com’s Robby Stanley…
“They blocked a lot of shots,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “I think they probably blocked  shots anyway. We hit the post a few times and just couldn’t seem to get it to bounce and stick our way offensively. That seems to be a common theme right now that the puck is not dropping in the net. When you don’t score goals, it becomes difficult to win.”
“It seemed like we were pressing all the time offensively, and they’ve got such speed in their lineup that the minute you have a hole defensively from pressing offensively, they’re off to the races, either a partial breakaway or a 2-on-1.” — Predators coach Peter Laviolette
And the Red Wings’ coach was happy with his team’s work ethic:
Luke Witkowski scored his first NHL goal, and Darren Helm also scored for the Red Wings (24-24-9), who have won three of their past four games. Detroit is seven points behind the New York Islanders for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
“I thought our work ethic was great,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “There was certainly moments in [a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday] where our work ethic was really good, and then there were moments where it wasn’t good enough. We can’t be that. We’ve got to be an every-shift work ethic team, and I thought tonight our work ethic was great the whole time.
“That doesn’t mean we didn’t make mistakes. We made lots of mistakes. We can live with mistakes, but you can’t live without having an unreal work ethic, being highly competitive and as detailed as possible, and I thought we did a good job.”
The Associated Press’s recap will serve as our pivot point between the Predators and Red Wings’ perspectives:
Mrazek improved his career record against the Predators to 6-0-0, coming within six minutes of getting his second shutout against them.
“I saw that for the first time today that I was 5-0 against them,” Mrazek said. “Every game is different and you never know what kind of bounce will go in, but it was nice that I got the (sixth) today.”
Last season, Mrazek had 42 saves in a shutout at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
“I think there are certain atmospheres and buildings and maybe teams where guys — when they’ve had success — might feel a little more confident,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “Certainly (Mrazek) was great in here last year and he was great in here again tonight. So this does seem to be a building he’s excited about.”
“I hope to make it eight when we play them (at home) on Tuesday again,” Blashill said. “We know they’re a great team, as deep a team as there is in the league. We know we’ll have our hands full next time, but when we play with a highly competitive work ethic and style like we did tonight, we’ve got a good chance to win.”
“I thought we played well — we had a lot of shots and a lot of good chances and we were competing hard,” Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “They worked just as hard and they earned that win.”
The Red Wings’ coach told the Free Press’s Helene St. James that his team’s made tangible progress of late…
“The last couple wins, with Anaheim and this one, we’ve been able to find ways to win those tight games,” Blashill said. “That’s real important. I think we’ve taken real steps forward.”
And the Red Wings were mostly delighted for Luke Witkowski, as they told St. James:
“It’s only because the other picture we have together is him beating me last year,” Mantha said after the 3-1 victory over the Nashville Predators. “I’ve signed a couple of those pictures and it’s not as fun as the one coming up.”
Mantha broke a finger last March when he fought Witkowski, then with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It’s pretty special because I’ve been signing a lot of pictures of me fighting him and now he assisted on my first goal,” Witkowski said. “Maybe I’ll sign a couple of those.”
Mantha at first thought he was passing to Gustav Nyquist. Then there was Witkowski, skating with the puck and finally scoring in his 74th career NHL game.
“Honestly I kind of blacked out a little bit,” Witkowski said. “Just got the puck on my backhand and shot it. Got it past his blocker. That was crazy. That was cool.”
The Wings signed Witkowski for his physicality and because he can sub in either on defense or at forward. His hands are known for fighting, not finesse around the net. So when he lit the goal lamp 4:12 into the game, it meant a little more than had it been anyone else.
“There were a lot of happy people when he scored on our bench,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “The way he plays, I would say teammates want to play hard for him for sure and they were really happy for him when he scored. Luke is a guy that his teammates really love so I think it’s great.”
Gustav Nyquist gave Witkowski the thumbs-up as well, as he told Reuters:
“That was great to see,” teammate Gustav Nyquist said of Witkowski’s breakthough goal. “I thought he had a great game. He’s so strong on the puck.”
Nyquist and Darren Helm also scored for the Red Wings in their road victory. Justin Abdelkader, Anthony Mantha, Nick Jensen, Danny DeKeyser and Frans Nielsen added assists.
The Red Wings won a game against an elite team because they out-worked an elite team, which is great news from the “process” standpoint, but Witkowski deserves his moment in the sun, too:
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 18, 2018
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 18, 2018
Highlights: NHL.com posted a 2:31 highlight clip…
Fox Sports Detroit posted clips of Gustav Nyquist’s post-game interview with Trevor Thompson…
Photos: The Free Press posted a 19-image gallery;
The Detroit News posted a 13-image gallery;
The Tennessean posted a 12-image gallery;
ESPN posted a 17-image gallery;
Here’s the Game Summary…
And the Event Summary:
The final shot attempts were 73-54 Nashville.