The Detroit Red Wings defeated the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Saturday evening, pushing their record to 15-13-and-3 despite some rough COVID difficulties for both teams.
The list of players and coaches on the COVID list was long–Jeff Blashill, Alex Tanguay, Robby Fabbri, Alex Nedeljkovic, Michael Rasmussen, Carter Rowney, Givani Smith and Filip Zadina for Detroit, and for the Devils…Well, I’ll let NewJerseyDevils.com’s Sam Kassan’s recap take care of that one:
There’s no getting around it. The Devils are a bruised and battered team. They were missing 10 players from the lineup tonight with the late scratch of forward Jesper Bratt (non-COVID related illness). He joins a list that includes captain Nico Hischier, Ryan Graves, Jesper Boqvist and Christian Jaros (COVID-19 protocol), their top two goaltenders in Mackenzie Blackwood (neck) and Jonathan Bernier (hip), as well as injuries to Tyce Thompson and Miles Wood.
A COVID surge in Utica (AHL) means that the Devils couldn’t recall any players to supplement their lineup. Therefore, the Devils were forced to play with only 11 forwards.
Not only were they playing down a man, but they’re also missing many key players and components form their lineup. They were facing a hefty challenge. That isn’t to make excuses. It’s just stating the reality of the situation. The Red Wings are dealing with the same issue and also played with one less skater.
Detroit’s best players showed up and made a difference. And that was the difference in the game.
“That was the difference,” head coach Lindy Ruff said. “Their top guys were better than our top guys. … Our top guys have to be harder to play against.”
Ruff wasn’t taking the we’ve-got-it-rough approach regarding his team’s struggles…
With the Devils current circumstances in goal (and in the health department), they really needed to play a smart, sound game. They pretty much did that in the first period and third periods. However, some breakdowns in the second resulted in goals against. With New Jersey’s lack of finish right now, the margin of error is nonexistent. One mistake could be the difference between winning and losing. And that was the case against Detroit. The Devils need to play a perfect game just to give themselves any hope of victory.
“The same things happen to our club over and over, ill-advised mistakes that turn into goals against. Careless decisions with the puck that turn into goals against,” Ruff said. “All that’s on me. That’s my responsibility. The way this team plays is my responsibility.”
And the Associated Press’s review continues the narrative:
”Our top guys were the ones that hurt us,” he said. ”I thought our bottom forwards gave us a good night. They were great on the kill, scored the first goal and a shorthanded goal. All the good stuff. Our top guys have to be harder to play against, be harder on the puck, they have to win more battles.”
”Right now, we don’t have any options (due to injuries and illness). We still have to try and win a game,” he said. ”All that is on me. That’s my responsibility. The way this team plays is my responsibility. ”
Both teams were depleted by the wave of positive COVID tests around the league. Detroit learned on Saturday it would be without Blashill and top goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic. They were placed in COVID protocol along with forwards Givani Smith, Carter Rowney and Filip Zadina and assistant coach Alex Tanguay. The Red Wings already had forwards Robby Fabbri and Michael Rasmussen on the COVID list.
The Devils placed defenseman P.K. Subban in COVID protocol. Defensemen Ryan Graves and Christian Jaros and forwards Nico Hischier and Jesper Boqvist were already on the protocol list. They were also without goalie Mackenzie Blackwood (neck) and forward Jesper Bratt (non-COVID illness).
”It’s unfair to our team, unfair to our fans that we have to play with a limited roster,” Ruff said.
For the Red Wings, whose record isn’t that much better than New Jersey’s 10-14-and-5, the story was a world away, with Dylan Larkin discussing his first hat trick:
”It did feel good. I’d never had one,” the Red Wings’ captain said. ”I think about my nana (grandmother) – she always gave me $5 for every goal and she always expected me to get a hat trick. I kept telling her it wasn’t that easy.”
Larkin made it look easy on Saturday, as the home fans showered the rink with hats before the second period ended. However, he doesn’t plan to keep the puck from his third goal of the night. He’ll give it to rookie Kyle Criscuolo, who assisted on the goal.
”I’m passing that one to Crisky, because it is a huge deal for him to get his first NHL point and he did a great job setting me up,” Larkin said. ”He definitely deserves it.”
Larkin continued while speaking with NHL.com’s Dave Hogg:
“This feels great because it took a little longer than I hoped to get one,” said Larkin, who is in his seventh season. “I don’t even remember the last one I had. It was probably in minor hockey, because I don’t think I ever had one in Triple-A or junior, either.”
Tyler Bertuzzi scored twice, and Thomas Greiss made 31 saves for the Red Wings (15-13-3), who had lost four of their past five games. Detroit played without coach Jeff Blashill and assistant Alex Tanguay, who are in COVID-19 protocol. Forward Filip Zadina also entered protocol prior to the game.
“This is really a huge win for us,” Larkin said. “We’ve had to deal with a lot in the last few days, so to get guys stepping into the lineup and helping us get two points was really important.”
Ben Simon, who is the coach of Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League, ran the bench while Red Wings assistant Doug Houda handled the meetings between periods.
“We are definitely giving [Simon] the win,” Houda said. “This was a tough situation for him to have to come up here and take over on short notice.”
Akira Schmid made 25 saves for the Devils (10-14-5), who have lost five straight and nine of their past 10 games (1-8-1).
“We’re beating ourselves most of the time,” Devils defenseman Damon Severson said. “We play well in stretches and then we start shooting ourselves in the foot. It’s not fun right now.”
Larkin offered his own take on the Red Wings’ COVID issues, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James noted…
Larkin’s four-point performance led to a 5-2 victory, in what marked the first time since its opening in October 2017 that LCA hosted a Wings and Pistons game on the same day. (The Pistons lost their matinee.) Tyler Bertuzzi added two goals to improve the Wings to 15-13-3.
“That was a huge win for our hockey team,” Larkin said. “It’s been difficult. You just have to find a way to show up and play. It feels pretty good in our room at a pretty tough time. We did wonder today if the league is going to step in, but we had to go and there were two points on the line.”
And again, the focus was on Larkin’s hat trick, as the Detroit News’s Steve Kornacki noted…
“It did feel good,” said Larkin, whose 131st career goal completed the hat trick. “You know, I’d obviously never had one. I think about my ‘Nana’ (Alice Larkin). She’d always give me $5 every goal. They’re both proud ‘Nanas,’ too. You score a hat trick, and you just do it, and it’s been hard. This one is definitely for my ‘Nana’ and my grandmother (Marilyn Davis).”
It was a moment the seventh-year NHL star from the University of Michigan and Waterford will always remember. Dozens of hats, mostly winter knits and baseball caps, were tossed onto the ice.
There was pure and utter joy in Hockeytown on a day that began with the gloom of having four players and two coaches grounded amid the growing pandemic that is postponing games – including Detroit’s Monday night home game with the Colorado Avalanche.
Assisting on the third Larkin goal was Criscuolo, 29, who had been recalled earlier this week from the Grand Rapids Griffins. It was the first point of his career in his 11th NHL game. So, who received the puck from that goal?
“I’m going to pass that one to him,” said Larkin. “That’s a big deal for him. And I couldn’t be happier for ‘Cris.’ He plays the right way. He’s one of those guys that stepped in tonight. He won a lot of battles, won a lot of faceoffs. So, I’m not surprised that he got the puck to me there, and I was able to go down. So, he deserves it.”
But the grit with which the team brought to the game was a focus, too:
“We found a way and we battled through it,” Houda told reporters after the game, noting that the win went to Simon, who ran the bench. “We got a win at the end of the day.”
“It was a good night, a good team win,” Larkin concluded. “We scored when we needed to and Greisser had a great start for us. And that was a huge win for our hockey team…You see guys go down and the world right now with the spike, and it’s hard. You have to be a great professional now and come ready to play, and really be dialed into nutrition, and do everything possible to stay safe.
“It seems like there’s no way to stop it, and whatever happens happens…It’s been difficult, and you just have to find a way to show up and play. I give credit to the guys who came from Grand Rapids…It feels pretty good in the room in a pretty tough time right now.”
Houda explained the coaching situation to Detroit Hockey Now’s Bob Duff…
Grand Rapids Griffins coach Ben Simon ran the bench during Saturday’s game. The coach of Detroit’s AHL farm club got the win in his first NHL game.
Assistant coach Doug Houda, the one Detroit bench coach who avoided COVID protocol, maintained his role running the defense. GR assistant coach Todd Krygier, a former NHL forward himself, ran the forwards.
“Those guys did a great job to come up under tough circumstances for them, and for the players that are hopping in,” Houda said. “The whole day’s an interesting day with all the COVIDs going on. We found a way, we battled through. When you get a win at the end of the day, we just move on.”
Blashill was in constant communication with the staff via Zoom.
“We got him set up on video,” Houda said. “We’d go over different situations . . . We tried to cover all the bases.
“He would meet us between periods. He’d talk about what he saw and then we’d talk about what we saw and then just go back out and address it (with the players).”
And, among DetroitRedWings.com’s Jonathan Mills’ post-game quotes:
Red Wings assistant coach Doug Houda on which interim coach gets credit for the win: “We’ll give that to Benny (Simon). Coming up, those guys did a great job. Tough circumstances for them and the players that are hopping in. Whole day was an interesting day when all the COVID is going on. But we found a way and we battled through it. When you get a win, at the end of the day, you move on.”
Larkin on his hat trick: “It did feel good. I’ve obviously never had one. I think about my nana. She would always give me $5 for every goal, like most proud nanas do. They’re always like, ‘Will you score a hat trick? Just do it!’ And I’m always like, ‘Nana, it’s kind of hard, you know?’ So this one’s definitely for my nana and my grandma.”
Larkin on Red Wings players stepping up under tough circumstances: “You just have to find a way to show up and play. I give credit to the guys that came from Grand Rapids, and Jordan Oesterle playing forward tonight. We needed him in a crunch and he did great.”
Larkin on how Detroit stays focused with COVID-19 spikes across NHL: “It’s difficult right now. You see guys go down. The world right now with the spike, it’s hard. You have to be a great professional right now and come ready to play, and really be dialed in to nutrition and doing everything possible to stay safe.”
Highlights: Sportsnet posted an 8:16 highlight clip:
NHL.com posted a 9:10 highlight clip:
Post-game: The Devils posted a 9:18 combined clip of Damon Severson and coach Lindy Ruff discussing the game and the Devils’ COVID issues:
And the Devils posted Amanda Stein’s post-game report:
Dylan Larkin took part in an on-the-bench interview with Bally Sports Detroit’s John Keating and Larry Murphy:
Here’s 1:18 of Mickey Redmond for your general health:
WXYZ’s Brad Galli posted Larkin’s 9:24 post-game presser:
And Galli posted assistant coach Doug Houda’s post-game presser, all 5:10 of it:
The Red Wings also posted a 3:41 clip of Larkin and Houda’s remarks:
Photos: The Free Press posted a 16-image gallery;
The Detroit News embedded an 11-image gallery in Steve Kornacki’s recap;
NHL.com posted a 37-image gallery.