No, Nicklas Lidstrom didn’t come back from retirement. But yes, the Detroit Red Wings are beginning to play defense like a playoff-caliber team once again.
Behind spectacular play in net and solid all-around effort, the Wings have won three straight games. They’ve allowed a total of just four goals in wins over the St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers and defending champion Los Angeles Kings. Rookie netminder Petr Mrazek allowed one goal in a 5-1 win over the Blues. It was his NHL debut. Jimmy Howard then sealed down the next two, allowing only three goals in all.
Howard has been magnificent between the pipes all season, but the Red Wings are just now starting to gel defensively. A mixture of injuries, the lockout and Lidstrom’s retirement has played a part in the Wings’ slow defensive start, but after shutting down three tough offensive teams in a row, it seems their level of chemistry is now on the rise.
Against the Oilers, the Red Wings killed seven of a whopping eight penalties. Edmonton is fifth in the NHL in power play percentage. They’ve now killed 10 of their last 11 after thwarting Los Angeles on three occasions. Against the Kings, Detroit played a bit sluggish, but it was the second game in 22 hours after playing the Oilers the night before. The Wings allowed 47 shots on goal, but Howard was an impenetrable wall in net. Chalk that one up to tired legs and Jimmy coming up huge.
The Red Wings makeshift defensive pairings aren’t the most desirable, but they’re starting to play more responsibly in their own end for the most part. Skaters are digging pucks out of the corners well and making good use of their sticks when the the puck is on it. Life is, of course, much easier on the defensive end when there is increased pressure on the offensive end.
Pavel Datsyuk has been his magician-like self with the puck, and captain Henrik Zetterberg is creating all kinds of offense, tallying six assists in the last four games. Newcomer Damien Brunner notched his sixth goal of the season Sunday and seems to be adjusting to the NHL just fine.
It’s not perfect hockey, but the Wings have been able to string together some solid efforts and need to use the upcoming schedule to stay hot. Detroit is now fifth in the Western Conference and its next two games are home at Joe Louis Arena, where the Wings are 5-2 in 2013.