The Red Wings are putting a buzz back into Hockeytown


Even after their three-game win streak was snapped Tuesday night, the Red Wings were in good spirits. They had earned a point in a shootout loss. Down 2-1 in the third on a night the puck just wouldn’t bounce their way, the Wings dug in and tied the game against Jake Allen and the Canadiens, a goalie and a team who seem to always play them tough. Their “skill was tired,” said Derek Lalonde, but they mustered enough good hockey to feel proud of their effort.

“We go down tonight and it didn’t seem like we were out of it,” said Dylan Larkin. “The third period was awesome. We just rolled lines, kept building momentum and then we got the goal we needed.”

There’s a buzz back in Hockeytown. We know: it’s early. But at least it hasn't gotten late. The Red Wings woke up Wednesday in second place in the loaded Atlantic Division. They have a record of 7-3-3, their best 13-game start since the 2010-11 season when Nicklas Lidstrom was captain and Larkin was a freshman at Waterford Mott High. They’re winning in a city that’s grown numb to losing, so indulge Detroit a little excitement. Attendance at LCA is higher than it's been since the arena's inaugural season. Born and raised in SOUTH DE-TROIT:

In Larkin’s words, the Red Wings have developed “a baseline of how we play” that’s allowed them to be competitive in almost every game. It owes to a new head coach and several new players. Asked how much higher that baseline feels this season, his eighth in Detroit, Larkin said, “Oh, a lot higher.”

“These last four games since (an 8-3 loss to) Buffalo, we’ve competed, we’ve blocked shots, we’ve gotten great goaltending and like today, we were right there. Newsy said it after the game: If we play that game 10 times, we could win eight.”

Newsy would be Lalonde, hired by Steve Yzerman to teach the Red Wings to play defense as a team. Smarter hockey is safer hockey, less risk to limit the opposition’s reward. In Lalonde's system, the same one he learned during two Cup runs with the Lightning, the Red Wings are generally on top of the puck rather than digging it out of their net.

Analytically, Lalonde will tell you the Wings have a ways to go. He'll tell you, literally, to "pump the breaks." They’re still allowing more shots and scoring chances at even strength than they’d like. But the scoreboard, so far, shows significant improvement from last season: Detroit has gone from 31st in the NHL in goals against to 11th. Strong goaltending from trade acquisition Ville Husso, whose .941 save percentage ranks third in the league, has helped.

So have the rest of Yzerman’s additions. Dominik Kubalik quietly looks like the steal of the offseason. The former Calder Trophy candidate signed a two-year, $5 million deal with Detroit after a down season in Chicago and already has 16 points, halfway to his total from last year. Fellow winger David Perron has been exactly what the Wings envisioned, a crafty scorer and a key cog on the power play. Ben Chiarot and Olli Maatta have been firm and steady on the blue line, perfect partners for Moritz Seider and Filip Hronek, respectively. Only Andrew Copp, the marquee signing of the summer, has yet to really get going after missing training camp following abdomen surgery.

“That’s what I’m talking about with our baseline,” said Larkin. “With that many new guys in your system, it finally feels like we’re into the season and we’re in a rhythm.”

The returners have been just as good. Larkin has been terrific. He’s starting more shifts than ever in the defensive zone as part of Lalonde’s commitment to protecting the Wings’ net and still producing at the other end. He has 15 points in 13 games, which gives him 84 in 84 games since last season. Lucas Raymond is heating up after a slow start, with five goals in his last six games including the one that tied the game Tuesday night. His contributions have helped the Wings weather the loss of two top-six forwards in Tyler Bertuzzi and Jakub Vrana; Bertuzzi is due back soon.

“The gamer in him, the compete, when he has an edge to his game he’s really good,” Lalonde said of Raymond. “He’s winning battles, he’s getting hard goals along with some skill goals. His play away from the puck, the detail in his game, he’s been really good of late and we’ve needed him."

One test leads to another for the Wings. They passed their last one by responding to that ugly loss to the Sabres with three straight wins over playoff contenders in the Capitals, Islanders and Rangers. Their next one starts Saturday against the Kings, the first of a three-game swing out West. After hosting the Rangers on Thursday, the Wings won’t play at home again until the day before Thanksgiving. If they’re still rolling then, Hockeytown will go straight from buzzing to drunk.

That 2010-11 team was 13-3-2 by Thanksgiving. It also had an identity and a core of proven winners and a known path to the playoffs. This team is trying to forge all three, with its identity coming into focus: “It’s about keeping it out of the net,” said Lalonde. If it stays out, these rebuilt Red Wings might stay in the race.

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