The Detroit Red Wings dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the Florida Panthers in the first of 2 games in 2 days (the teams play again Sunday at 5 PM EST), kicking off a schedule in which the Wings and Panthers will play 6 total times over the next 3 weeks.
In other words, the Wings play 12 games between now and February 20, and half of those games will be opposite the Panthers, who have won 7 straight games (5 in regulation and 2 in OT) over Detroit, and 6 straight games in Detroit.
That’s not good news for the 0-4-and-2-of-late Red Wings, who haven’t won since January 19th.
On Saturday, the Wings possessed an 0-for-4 power play and a 1-for-3 penalty kill over the course of a game in which they lost Tyler Bertuzzi to an upper-body injury, they appear to have a slightly hobbled captain in Dylan Larkin, and both Filip Hronek and Luke Glendening suffered facial injuries for good measure.
Did I mention that Thomas Greiss, who may have to start on Sunday, is 0-4-and-2 this season, or that coach Blashill’s version of “message-sending” involved not playing Anthony Mantha or Larkin at all for 3 of the Wings’ 4 power plays?
If all of that reads like word salad–and it probably should–you need to know that the most distressing part of this game is that the Red Wings played pretty well, by their standards of late, but they lost again to a team that they play 5 more times over the next 21 days.
On Saturday, Detroit rallied from a 1-0 deficit, took a 2-1 lead, and nursed a 2-2 tie for a point before what had become a customary combination–an inability to convert offensively and a set of self-inflicted mistakes defensively, all yielding a consistent result: more pucks in the Wings’ net than the opponents’ cage, despite a tremendous amount of work put in by the team from Detroit to change the equation.
Our friends from Florida, who’ve become accustomed to their success in and against Detroit, were delighted that the author of their victory was a debutant in Finnish rookie Aleksi Heponiemi, as they told the Associated Press’s Larry Lage:
Aleksi Heponiemi made the most of his NHL debut, scoring with 2:15 left in overtime to lift the Florida Panthers to a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.
”He’s going to be telling his great grandkids about that one,” said teammate Keith Yandle, who had a tying goal with 1 second left in the first period.
Heponiemi, a 22-year-old forward from Finland, was drafted No. 40 overall by Florida in 2017. The organization wasn’t sure whether he would play for its AHL team or be a regular on the taxi squad this season.
”He’s going to find a way to get to this league,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
Heponiemi scored from the left side of the net after Anthony Duclair lifted the puck over an opponent’s stick and across the crease to set up the winner.
”He’s got great instincts,” Quenneville said. ”He’s a threat. Great hands, great finish, great touch.”
Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky made 25 saves, including one with his left skate late in the third period to stop Mathias Brome’s backhander.
”He makes tough saves look really easy,” Yandle said.
Bobrovsky’s save on Brome, in retrospect, was spectacular:
NHL.com’s Dave Hogg spoke with the hero of the hour:
“It’s just an amazing feeling,” Heponiemi said. “After the first couple nervous shifts, I was just enjoying the ice time, but [Panthers coach Joel Quenneville] putting me out there for an important moment means a lot.”
Heponiemi is the fourth player in NHL history to score in overtime in his debut, and the second this season after Kirill Kaprizov for the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 14.
“He’s got great instincts,” Quenneville said of Heponiemi, who played 9:30. “It was a great play by [Duclair] to get it across to him, but he has great hands, and that was a great finish.”
Aleksander Barkov and Keith Yandle scored for Florida (4-0-1), which played overtime for the fourth straight game and was coming off a 3-2 shootout loss at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. Sergei Bobrovsky made 25 saves.
“It is huge to get points in a shortened season,” Yandle said. ‘You have to find ways to win games, whether it is in regulation or overtime. Those points could be very important at the end of the season.”
Coach Quenneville agreed with his charges, as he told Florida Hockey Now’s George Richards:
“You want to get points and we’re seeing an abnormal number of tie games in the league,” Quenneville said. “I don’t know if it’s the familiarity in the back-to-back nights, familiarity of the division where everyone knows how to play each other.”
The Red Wings lost Tyler Bertuzzi and Luke Glendenning to injury during the game perhaps leaving them even more shorthanded in the rematch Sunday afternoon.
Florida and the Wings go at it again at 5 p.m.
Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made 25 saves in the game as he rolled to 3-0 this season. All of his wins have come either in overtime or a shootout.
”Obviously a big win for us and that’s important at this time of the year,” Bobrovsky said. “It’s important to get the one point going to overtime, but to get the second makes a big deal in the locker room feelings-wise and obviously in the standings.”
The Panthers also had luck on their side, as Yandle told FloridaPanthers.com’s Jameson Olive:
The Panthers beat both the goaltender and the clock on this one.
Earning a power play late in the first period, Yandle skated down toward the net and fired a shot toward the cage that flew straight past Greiss and crossed the goal line with less than a second left on the clock to even things up and make it a 2-2 contest heading into the first intermission.
At the time, Yandle wasn’t quite sure he’d beat the clock.
“I looked up and I think there was five or six seconds left, and then I looked up after I scored and it said zero seconds,” Yandle said. “I kind of was thinking we’d missed our chance, but it was nice to get that one, especially to get a little momentum going into the next period.”
Racking up four points through five games to start the season, Yandle has been up to his old tricks on the man advantage. Manning the point on Florida’s top unit, he’s already racked up three points (one goal, two assists) on the power play, which went 2-for-3 tonight in Detroit.
The Red Wings–well, Dylan Larkin and Jeff Blashill were made available to the media, so we’ll say the Captain and the Coach–felt that the Wings carried the play 5-on-5, but lost the game on special teams, as they told the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan…
“That’s the response we needed, the way we have to play,” forward Dylan Larkin said of playing the Panthers evenly throughout for over 60 minutes. “We played good, outplayed them 5-on-5, and took away their power-play goals. We played a good solid game and that’s what we wanted coming home.”
And Larkin did not complain about being held off the ice on the power play, as you might expect from a stand-up captain:
“(It was) for the team, you have to take a look at it, it wasn’t working and you try other guys,” Larkin said. “The whole season, in training camp, he (Blashill) said it was a privilege (to be on the power play) and it is. We tried to switch it up and get it going and just watching from the bench you can see and it was definitely a good lesson for me, I guess.”
Blashill felt it was necessary to take a different look.
“Obviously the power play hasn’t been good enough and we felt we’d try a couple other guys,” Blashill said, “and see what they could do and when they couldn’t get it done, we went back to Larks and Mantha and see what they could do. Somebody has to step up and play better in those situations. If it’s Larks and Mantha, great, and if it’s somebody else, great. It might not the last time we make those decisions as guys come back (to the lineup).”
Both of the Wings’ goals Saturday were goals around the Florida net, off rebounds, and the types of goals Blashill wants to see more of in the games ahead.
“Those are the types of goals that are repeatable and anyone can score,” Blashill said. “You don’t need to be an elite talent to score, and those are the types of goals we’re going to have to score. We’ve done a better job the last couple of games of making it hard on the opposing goalie and converging on the net and getting those rebounds.”
Blashill told DetroitRedWings.com’s Brett McWethy that the team’s efforts were acceptable, all things considered…
“We were better (tonight). There was a few times, if we wanted the puck way more, we can still do a better job of making hard plays to get it out when we’re in trouble,” Blashill said. “Just that balance between having poise and making tape-to-tape passes and when you’re in trouble, making hard plays. I thought we were way better in that area, because of that I thought we were able to get pressure on them way more.
“They certainly had their moments of pushing and had their chances. We’ve got to find a way to win in the specialty battle tomorrow and play similar five-on-five. We’ve got to defend great; we’ve got to defend gaps and we’ve got to end plays early, and we’ve got to play and attack on offense.”
And, again, the captain agreed:
“I thought our whole game, at five-on-five, was solid,” Larkin said. “We used the ‘D,’ the ‘D’ got pucks to the net. We scored a couple goals winning battles and getting second and third opportunities. That’s how we have to play. We have to rim out and use the ‘D.’ They’ve got to spread it out and get pucks to the net, which they did tonight. We’ve got to be hungry there for the pucks.”
The Free Press’s Helene St. James also took note of Larkin’s remarks, especially those about being left off the power play…
“It’s something that for the team, we have to take a look at. It wasn’t working so try other guys, next man up,” Larkin said. “We haven’t been good enough so it was time to switch things up. I think just watching from the bench, it definitely was a good lesson for me.”
Aleksi Heponiemi scored midway through overtime to drop the Wings to 2-5-2.On the whole, though, it was an improvement over how poorly the Wings played in their previous game, when they gave up seven goals at Dallas.
“That’s the response we needed,” Larkin said. “That’s how we have to play. We played good.”
MLive’s Ansar Khan duly noted that the Wings are a shorthanded bunch to begin with, especially in terms of power play players…
Blashill, already missing power-play people in Robby Fabbri, Filip Zadina and Sam Gagner due to COVID protocol, used Valtteri Filppula, Mathias Brome, Vladislav Namestnikov and Taro Hirose, players who haven’t played as much on the power play.
“I think Taro Hirose is a fairly natural fit as a half-wall guy; he’s probably got the most poise,” Blashill said. “It might not be the last time we make that decision as guys come back. If we don’t get it done, somebody’s got to come off. It doesn’t really matter your name; it matters who’s going to execute. At the end the day, I made a decision those guys were not going to be on it and somebody else was going to be on it. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
The Red Wings are now 4 for 31 on the power play (12.9 percent).
And you can take this for what you will:
The Red Wings scored both of their goals on rebounds, one from the slot (Mantha) and one from the crease (Tyler Bertuzzi). It is the type of net-front havoc they need to create more of on the power play. That is how Florida scored one of its two power-play goals, from Keith Yandle with 0.6 seconds remaining in the first period to tie it at 2-2.
“They were hard at our net,” Larkin said. “They just get it to the net and (Patric) Hornqvist was flying into the net there, created chaos and the puck was laying there for Yandle. Good second and third chances, throw it to the net, have bodies there. Get the puck back A lot of power-play goals in the league are scored like that.”
Said Blashill: “Creating havoc and outnumbering and converging at the net is how you score on the power play. It’s finding ways to funnel pucks to the net with more people than them. That starts with executing on your entries so you can get in the zone and set up. Tonight, we had opportunities for good entries and didn’t execute well enough.”
The Red Wings haven’t had good power play zone entries since the Datsyuk Drop Pass was actually used by Nicklas Lidstrom dropping the puck to the actual Pavel Datsyuk at center ice, frankly.
Highlights: Sportsnet and NHL.com posted game highlight clips:
Post-game: Kudos to Fox Sports Florida/Sun for posting a 15:22 clip of comments from Aleksi Heponiemi, Keith Yandle, Sergei Bobrovsky and coach Joel Quenneville:
The Panthers, by comparison, only posted 2 minutes’ worth of post-game remarks:
On the Wings’ side of things, Fox Sports Detroit posted clips of Dylan Larkin and Wings color commentator Mickey Redmond discussing the game…
And the Red Wings posted a combined clip of comments from Larkin and coach Jeff Blashill:
Photos: The Free Press posted an 11-image gallery;
The Detroit News embedded an 18-image gallery in Ted Kulfan’s recap;
And NHL.com posted an 87-image gallery.