Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill interview from Dallas. Jan. 27, 2021.
Detroit Free Press
They seek to salvage what is left of their first road trip of the season when they take on Dallas on Thursday, two days after losing in overtime, 2-1. Larkin missed Wednesday’s practice for undisclosed reasons, with coach Jeff Blashill saying it was not COVID-19 protocol related. (The Wings already have five regulars on that list.) He didn’t anticipate Larkin missing the game, but said, “we’ll see.” Whatever the issue is, it led to Larkin missing a few shifts Tuesday.
Injuries are part of every NHL season, and with this one coming during the pandemic, teams are traveling with taxi squads to avoid a potential call-up needing to travel commercially. That already has led to Taro Hirose and Givani Smith entering the lineup; they earned assists on Vladislav Namestnikov’s goal vs. Dallas.
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.”
The Stars tied the game on a power-play goal, improving to 3-0 on the season (they started late after more than half the team tested positive for COVID-19) on the strength of a power play that’s clicking at 56.3%. The Wings are 2-4-1, and have three power-play goals (two from Bertuzzi, one from Mantha) in seven games.
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.”
GRADING HIMSELF: Mantha knows he has to play better
On Larkin’s unit, opponents know, for example, Mantha likes to tee up a one-timer from the right circle, and defend with blocking the shot. It’s not that Mantha shouldn’t refrain from doing so, it’s finding ways to add more looks from the group.
“I think the one-timer from Mantha is a fine option but it can’t be the sole option on the power play by any stretch,” Blashill said. “He has a good shot but it still isn’t extraordinarily dangerous. So we have to be able to create more opportunities other ways. We certainly have a player in Bobby Ryan — we need to find ways to get the puck more to him down low, so there are more low-play options, which ultimately then open up the higher-play option — the one-timer from Mantha, the one-timer from Hronek.”
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.