Inconsistent play mars Red Wings' quick starts

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Red Wings defenseman Nick Jensen, left, battles for the puck with Vegas Golden Knights right wing Reilly Smith during Friday's game.

Detroit — The Red Wings scored the all-important first goal of the game in three of five contests far this season, on their way to a 4-1 record.

They gave back their hard-won advantage too easily Friday against the Golden Knights.

Despite the fine start, inconsistency remains a hallmark of the Wings' play.

When Xavier Ouellet and Frans Nielsen failed to connect on a pass deep in the Wings’ zone to the left of Petr Mrazek, the Knights tied the game.

Henrik Zetterberg had no quit in him all night, however.

But right after Zetterberg lifted them, taking Darren Helm’s useful short pass and breaking in alone to restore their lead, the Red Wings were, once again, considerably short of attentive in their zone.


Just 32 seconds after their captain put them on his back, some of his teammates jumped right off.

Poor coverage, including measly back-checking and defensemen not fulfilling obvious responsibilities, left James Neal — of all people — alone for his sixth goal of the young season.

The Wings eventually prevailed.

But they do make it tough on themselves, sometimes. Lots of times, actually.

Last season included many games in which an incomplete effort marred a match otherwise played well enough to wins. The Red Wings have talked about playing a more complete game. They still stymie their best intentions with uneven performance.

Their season may be a test of whether this lineup can accomplish the task, or the Wings and their fans remain patient for the development of a more talented roster, heralding easier, more frequent wins.

“I think a lot of it is mental, and there are little things in the game that decide whether the momentum comes right back to you or not,” Zetterberg said after practice Sunday.

“I don’t think there’s many perfect games out there. You’ve just got to shorten the bad moments, and try to find the ways to get the momentum on your side and play good.”

That constant battle between good performance and bad, sharp precision and dull, yielded a win in Las Vegas.

But the game could have gone either way, and fewer mistakes and more attention to detail would have resulted in easier victory.

If the early success is not fleeting, the Red Wings will be more unfailing, shift to shift, period to period, and game to game.

“Consistency is a real factor between the good players and the great players,” coach Jeff Blashill said.

“Great athletes play great when they are great, and good when they’re not great. Good athletes play great sometimes, and bad when they’re not good.”

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The attention to detail that is required for such constancy is a matter of preparation, concentration, discipline and fortitude. Some players have it. Some do not.

The question for the Wings is do they have enough that do, or can they develop enough through the season, and in the seasons to come, to become a far bigger part of the conversation, again, in the NHL.

“To me, it’s a complete player,” Blashill said of the key to playing a more complete game.

“I would use complete as synonymous with winning.

“A winning player is not just about points. He doesn’t always show up on the highlights. It is playing great defense, and great offense.

“Those are the winners.”

What encouraged the Red Wings about beating the Golden Knights is that they persisted, with their captain leading, despite their flaws.

Eliminating more of them would make their wins easier, and more frequent.

“In Vegas, coming into the third we still felt like we had a pretty good chance, even though we didn’t play as well as we could,” Zetterberg said. “There’s games where you have to really bear down and play hard, because you won’t be perfect all the time.”

Relying so heavily on resilience is not winning hockey. But the Wings have demonstrated a greater ability to bounce back in the early going.

“No one is happy where we’re ranked and we want to prove them wrong. I think we’ve had a good start here,” Zetterberg said.

A more complete game would arrive with timeliness this week.

The Lightning, the Maple Leafs and Capitals are scheduled, three teams with considerable offensive punch and more likely to take advantage of the Wings’ ebbs than the Golden Knights or Coyotes.

“We have a good feeling that we’re playing decent, but there’s room for improvement, too,” Zetterberg said.

“I think in the neutral zone we’ve changed a little bit, and we’ve got to get comfortable there. I think there’s a few times teams are just coming through too easy.

“And, also, I think in our own end, there’s stuff that we have to work on, too."