Sunrise, Fla. — The Red Wings hadn’t won in six games — or since Oct. 13 in Las Vegas — so Saturday night’s 3-2 shootout victory over Florida was desperately needed.
There was a visible sense of relief in a locker room that was beginning to struggle with a six-game winless streak. It was beginning to resemble last season’s disappointment.
But thanks to the goaltending of Jimmy Howard, Gustav Nyquist’s shootout goal, and good penalty killing, the Wings feel better about themselves.
They regained a little bit of confidence.
“I just think it’s human nature,” coach Jeff Blashill said, of whether he sensed the Red Wings were wavering with their confidence. “When you don’t win enough, confidence wanes. Winning breeds confidence.
“We have to make sure we got on a roll here and win on Tuesday (home against winless Arizona) and get as much confidence as possible.”
This was a big win for Blashill, too.
When a team is struggling there is bound to be speculation about a head coach’s job security. Sure enough, during Saturday’s “Hockey Night in Canada” headlines segment, analyst Elliotte Friedman said if the Red Wings continue to struggle and decide to make a coaching change, they would consider Grand Rapids Griffins coach Todd Nelson or former Arizona coach Dave Tippett as possible replacements.
There is no indication the Red Wings are near that point, but Saturday’s win certainly quiets that speculation.
“We’ve obviously been in a lot of these spots and haven’t won enough,” Blashill said. “It felt good to win, we have to find ways to win these games.”
They won Saturday mainly because of Howard, who stopped 44 shots and three more in the shootout.
“Sometimes teams go through slumps and you have to have someone to step up,” said Howard, who added he didn’t mind the workload.
Howard is coming off one of his best seasons and, in this first month, is continuing an impressive level of performance.
“He’s in control of his game,” Blashill said. “He was excellent tonight. Howie, two years ago, went to work and his technique, I think, is way better and his competitive level is real high.”
Howard was given the starter’s job out of the exhibition season, and he’s clearly doing everything to maintain the No. 1 position. Except for a hiccup in a loss in Toronto, Howard has been, arguably, the Red Wings’ most consistent player.
“I’m just trying to do my job for the guys, just go out there and play,” Howard said. “As I’ve gotten older, I go out there and have fun.’
The win wasn’t perfect. Penalties continue to be a problem — the Red Wings killed five of six Florida power plays — and the allowing of so many shots nearly every game is an issue.
“Not the receipe for long term success,” Howard said. “We have to improve some things. (But) we definitely did (need this win). It’s a confidence boost, and against a divisional opponent, it’s huge for us.”
Blashill said Friday he would keep his forward lines together for the forseeable future. That had to be amended during the game, as penalties mounted and penalty killing responsibilities affected certain lines.
Toward the end of regulation time, the lines went back to how they started the game.
“You have to make in-game adjustments,” Bashill said. “We’ll go back to the lines we had (at the start of the game).”
Forward Andreas Athanasiou scored his first goal in his second game since returning to the lineup after a lengthy contract stalemate. Athanasiou converted a one-timer off a feed from Dylan Larkin to open the game’s scoring.
Athanasiou played 15 minutes and 14 seconds on 21 shifts, with two shots and one hit and one takeaway.
“It was good for him,” Blashill said. “Double-A, overall, played real well.”
Blashill liked what he saw out of the Athanasiou-Larkin- Anthony Mantha line.
“At times, that line was good, and at times, we have to make sure they’re playing fast,” Blashill said.
“They’re so fast.”