Detroit Red Wings: Learning the Difference between Winning and Losing

RALEIGH, NC - NOVEMBER 10: Jonathan Bernier #45 of the Detroit Red Wings is congratulated by teammates on his victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in an NHL game on November 10, 2018 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - NOVEMBER 10: Jonathan Bernier #45 of the Detroit Red Wings is congratulated by teammates on his victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in an NHL game on November 10, 2018 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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The Detroit Red Wings have won six out of seven. Amazing. Before their fortunes flip back, let’s notice what they are doing right, and whether any real trends now emerge.

If the Detroit Red Wings are learning what it takes to become winners that matters more than any won-loss record possibly could.

Despite the cosmetics of recent victories, which have been arguably grim, they are undeniably finding ways to win, after finding multiple ways to lose only games before.  That is something serious, not only as a lifeblood of hope for fans aching to believe, but as a way into the future.

So what are we seeing?  Certainly chronic inabilities—like getting the puck out of our own zone—continue to rear their ugly head.  But let’s not be so dark.  Some rays of light also penetrating the shadows of losing.  Certain habits and patterns are setting in that give this observer and fan hope.

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Playing big when it matters most.  Surrendering leads in the third period last year meant a spate of senseless losses. It burned our gastrointestinal regions more the than the average loss. This year we are saving our bad play for the opening of games, and saving our best play for last. That is always preferable, because the early lapses can be remedied, as momentum within an NHL hockey game almost always shifts in the course of a game.

We’ve won our last three games after being down two goals entering the third period.  Now we stay and watch because we never know how we might come back. Instead of having our lunch stolen by bullies we now steal their lunch.

The big dogs are muscling in to eat. Players like Dylan Larkin, Dennis Cholowski, and Andreas Athanasiou are getting that hungry-like-a-wolf look in their eyes.  Was that Anthony Mantha pushing aside other alphas at the feed bowl to dominate the third period?  Any athlete in any sport will testify to the centrality of confidence to win. Confidence grows out of solid accomplishment.

Great goaltending covers a wide multitude of sins.  Winning teams have goaltending capable of stealing the occasional game. Last year Jimmy Howard excelled in spurts but was exposed as Mrazek performed inadequately as the backup.  Howard is no longer a young man and cannot be overworked.  Bernier started the season soft in goal, but has firmed up nicely in recent starts.

If they sustain a strong tandem, it covers for forwards and defense as they inevitably sag.  It picks them up to snag games they have no business winning.  Winners build from the goal crease out.

Never can say goodbye.  As the Red Wings fell two goals behind the Rangers, and doom encircled, a thought occurred to me.  Brendan Smith is playing defense!  It was my only ray of light. Things turned around as Nyquist predictably stripped him of the puck.

We saw this play out so often before.  Smith was a promising physical specimen who could never think the game.  Despite salary commitments, holding on to such players is a purgatory.  So farewell, Jonathan Ericsson!

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Never say die. Earlier in the season, when things went poorly for the Detroit Red Wings, a hangdog look overcame them, certifying them as NHL roadkill.  Opponents not only notice such weakness, they try to break the will and backbone of teams easily dissuaded from the task at hand, which is immense every game.  Even if you can’t see any way forward to winning after falling behind, fake it until you can make it.  Who knows?  The game is full of surprises and reversals.  Never say die.