Detroit — The start to this season has been ideal.
The Red Wings were universally picked to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, so any sort of positive outcome through two weeks of the schedule is good news for the organization.
But, the strength-of-schedule factor increases this week, which will give everyone a better idea of where the Red Wings stand.
Monday’s game against Tampa will be followed by visiting Toronto on Wednesday, then returning home Friday to face Washington.
Those are three probable Eastern Conference playoff teams, so the Red Wings’ 4-1-0 start will be severely tested.
“It’s going to be a real good test,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “It’s nice that’s we’re home for the majority of it (the Red Wings also host Vancouver on Sunday). It’s good we can match up ourselves against them and hopefully bring our best effort.”
For coach Jeff Blashill, this week is another opportunity for his team to show it can be a contending team.
“We got through five games and you find more about yourself every time you play,” Blashill said. “You find out what you’re made of, I guess. Certainly (Tampa) is a good test. We talk about resumes, and how players every day, you get a chance to add to your resume as a player one way one way or another.
“It’s the same thing as a team.”
The Lightning is picked to win the Stanley Cup by many analysts.
“They have that kind of ability,” Blashill said. “We think we’re a real good hockey team, but it doesn’t matter what we think. It’s a matter of what we prove, so let’s go out and prove it.
“You have to win games. Certainly 4-1 is a good start from the standpoint there’s a lot of things we have to get better at. We have a stretch of tough teams here starting (Monday). If you make mistakes similar to what we’ve made, it’ll be tougher to win.”
Forward Luke Witkowski returned to the lineup Monday, replacing David Booth, getting an opportunity to face his former Tampa Bay Lightning teammates.
“To see some of those guys, and play against them, it’ll be a little different,” said Witkowski, a 2008 sixth-round draft pick of the Lightning. “I’m excited for the opportunity.”
Witkowski has played in two of the five games thus far, providing the Red Wings with the physical edge expected of him.
“He brings an element of physicality and toughness,” Blashill said. “He hasn’t played a lot of minutes, but he’s brought that physicality and he does have the versatility, plays both forward and defense.”
The Red Wings wanted a gritty player similar to Steve Ott, who filled the role well last season.
“We had some thought of maybe bringing Otter back, and when he retired and got into coaching, we went looking for somebody who could bring that type of element,” Blashill said. “He (Witkowski) brings a different personality. He’s not the same person as Otter but in his own way, he brings a lot of those same elements.”
Defenseman Danny DeKeyser (lower body) didn’t skate during the morning skate and missed his third consecutive game. DeKeyser remains day-to-day, with no timetable, yet, for a return.
... After three games to begin the season well over 20 minutes, the coaching staff has gotten Henrik Zetterberg s ice time more to what they want to see.
“It’s a fine line,” Blashill said. “If you don’t play guys like him that can handle those kind of minutes, they want to play in between 18 to 21 minutes and you start getting them less than 18, they feel like they’re sitting on the bench and their legs don’t have the same jump.”