Xavier Ouellet cements spot on Red Wings' blue line

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Since defenseman Xavier Ouellet re-entered the lineup a second time in November, it’s been awfully difficult to get him out.

Detroit defenseman Xavier Ouellet and Boston center David Backes collide in the first period.

And when Ouellet plays the way he has, it’s no wonder.

Ouellet has arguably been one of the team’s best overall defensemen over that span, living up to the scouting reports that labeled him as a sound, two-way defenseman, efficient at both ends of the ice — may not be a star over his career, but could certainly play 10 years and have a long, successful career.

Judging from his first extended work in the NHL, Ouellet looks like he may prove the scouts wrong.

“What X has done for me is he’s gone in and he’s executed at a pretty high level,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “For the most part, he’s had very few nights when he was off and he’s had a lot of nights when he’s been on.

“He’s not played slow, he’s played fast, and that’s something we’ve done a much better job of as we’ve gone through the season.

“When he’s playing at his best, he’s smart and he makes real good decisions with the puck. He brings the puck out and he’s strong as well. Those are things that have helped us. He’s been a real good player for us.”

Ouellet saw regular duty in the lineup to begin the season, but lost his job to Ryan Sproul. He's played with confidence and passion since regaining the spot against Montreal Nov. 26.

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“It was kind of hard to be out of the lineup, frustrating,” Ouellet said. “When I came in, I was really excited about the opportunity and I just wanted to make sure that I would give everything I had every night and that’s what I’ve been doing.

“I’m taking every game like it’s my last one and I do everything I can to win that (particular) game. In doing so, it allowed me to play consistently good.”

Ouellett never felt confidence was an issue earlier in the season, and if anything, it’s been limiting mistakes and making good decisions that’s been a key difference for him the second time around.

“I feel confident. I’ve always been a pretty confident player,” Ouellet said. “When you come in, you want to get a spot (in the lineup) and you want to limit mistakes,  the risks.

“I just try to look for the opportunity and jump in (to the offense) and judge whether there’s risk or not. If there’s no risk, I’m going to go and support the offense.”

Lack of practice

A poll of coaches around the NHL by TSN had the lack of practice time and compressed schedule as the biggest complaint among coaches this season.

Blashill agrees that lack of practice time — because of the schedule — has been a factor.

“You want to get the quality practice time to develop your players and to have the proper structure and with instruction,” Blashill said. “The way it’s been this year, it’s really made it impossible.

“You constantly have to make a decision between practice and rest. They have to enough rest, and the four days off (required per month in the CBA) doesn’t give you enough because of the schedule.”

Some coaches believe the busy schedule has led to a recent spate of high-scoring, defense-missing games.

“It certainly has led to some interesting games that might be good for the NHL, I don’t know, it’s not good for coaches sitting on the bench, the 7-6 games and things like that,” Blashill said. “It does have an effect on it for sure.

“You lose structure when you don’t practice and you lose your habits when you don’t get to practice. I’m a huge believer in habits and when you can’t drill them, you’re going to lose them. For us, we’ve taught more on video this season than last year and that’s something you have to do because you don’t have the practice time.”

Ice chips

Thomas Vanek (lower body) was expected to return to the lineup Wednesday after missing Tuesday’s game in Boston.

…The Red Wings are 6-0 in shootouts this season, but only 3-9 in 3-on-3 overtime.

“Usually with overtime and shootouts, a lot of time they’ll even out,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “There are chances both ways (in overtime) and shootouts come down to a skills competition.”