Detroit — The Red Wings skated hard in practice Wednesday and did not avoid contact.
They were banging and hollering, and they moved the goals in tighter toward each other a few times to replicate the lack of room to skate in the NHL these days.
Player and coaches call them “battle drills.” The circumstances of the schedule allowed the Wings to go at them heavily this week.
Their three days off is one of four three-day breaks they will have in the entire six-month regular season. The collective bargaining agreement mandates another five-day respite, and the All-Star Game provides a second one.
But the opportunity is rare in the NHL to practice at game pace and something approaching game vigor and aggression, take a day off, and do a bit of it again before another game.
After an uplifting 5-1 win over the Jets on Tuesday, the Wings were all in.
“I think we had a good practice today, and worked on a lot of the battling, and two-on-two, three-on-three, five-on-five, some good skating up and down the ice,” said Justin Abdelkader, whose 18 points are tied with Mike Green for second on the roster.
“It’s good. We’re going to have a day off tomorrow and get some rest. Get a full day of work and as we come up on the schedule now, we’re going to be playing every other day.
“So, it’s a nice little break on the schedule, and time to get refocused and get a push, here, until Christmas.”
Abdelkader is third on the Wings with 13 assists and seventh with five goals.
His physical style of play and size allow him to do something of which the Red Wings hope to do more: spur some consistency and more winning.
The team has also talked about “playing through people.”
“Playing through guys? It’s not poking, hoping,” Abdelkader said about trying to affect play with just a stick.
“Playing physical. Not giving them easy ice, through all parts of the ice. Just being hard on them. Making sure that we’re hard in those battles.
“There’s a lot of guys who play with skill in this league who would like to go through you. So just want to make sure you’re hard on them, and play through them, for sure.”
Blashill said that in addition to a better energy level and playing on their toes, the willingness and desire to play through the Jets proved essential in Tuesday’s impressive win.
“Playing through bodies,” Blashill said after the game. “Not necessarily making big hits. Just making sure that there were no stick checks, that guys had to go through us to get up the ice. And that’s a really important thing.”
After practice Wednesday, Blashill expanded on that desired style of play.
“It’s taking away space,” he said. “It’s not letting them skate up the ice easily.
“It’s a lot of angles. It’s stopping on people. It’s stopping on pucks. It’s not stick checking; what I call poke and hope.
“You know, I thought we did a better job of that throughout the game.”
During some stretches in their wildly inconsistent season through 28 games (4-1; 0-5-1; 6-2-1; 0-4-3; 1-0), the Wings have allowed teams easy exits from their zone, through center ice, and to move in on Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek relatively unfettered.
The inability to restrain the Canadiens forays with any consistency for five consecutive periods shook the franchise to its core.
In the first period Tuesday against the highest-scoring, first-period team in the NHL, the Red Wings yielded three shots on goal and no goals.
“We needed that type of period,” Blashill said. “I thought the first was excellent.
“Harder to play against, in this sense: It’s not always necessarily big finished checks, but it’s taking away space and not letting them skate up ice easily.”
Blashill hopes the approach, in part, will help the team gain some consistency.
“Listen, we’ve got to be ultra, ultra, ultra-competitive every night,” he said. “There’s probably some teams in the league that can get away with maybe not that.
“I think human nature is that you are not necessarily at that line, every night. But we have to be as close to that line of being as ultra-competitive as humanly possible.
“That’s not easy. That’s not normal.
“Most teams are not like that.
“We can’t be normal. We’ve got to be beyond the norm, on that.”