Well-rested Red Wings refocus on physical play

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — They can’t say they didn’t get enough rest.

Or, they weren’t battle ready.

Or didn’t get enough time to fine-tune any parts of their time, be it individually or as a team.

When the Red Wings host St.  Louis Saturday afternoon (1 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 The Ticket), they should be ready.

Three days off between games — including one complete day away from the rink — theoretically should make for a hungry team ready to play hockey.
Coach Jeff Blashill, and his staff, have attempted to design it that way.

“You also have to manage it,” said Blashill, of having the time off in the schedule and how exactly to use it. “You can’t just go into three days of practice straight when you haven’t done it at all.

“I remember my days (coaching) in college, we’d have three unreal days of practice and come out Friday and be brutal (because) you had spent all your energy in practice.

“So, you have to be smart about it and that’s why we gave them the in-between day off and hopefully we got battle tested today (Friday).”

There was an emphasis during every practice this week on being more physical, winning one-on-one battles in drills and half-ice games.

In the final games of a seven-game winless streak, both losses to Montreal, Blashill didn’t like seeing the endless stick-checking — “poke and hope” he calls it — and making it hard for teams to gain room on the ice.

And, later this week, having those days off between Tuesday’s feel-good 5-1 victory over Winnipeg and Saturday’s game against St. Louis, has helped.

“It gives you a chance, obviously, the day after the game, a chance to practice, maybe a little longer and harder than you can at different times (during the schedule),” Blashill said.

The Red Wings have been fortunate with days off recently, in that they had two consecutive days without games earlier in the week (Sunday-Monday) and have another three-day stretch beginning Dec. 16 (no games until Dec. 19).

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Though the Red Wings are considered, generally, a younger team these days, the average age on the roster is just above 27, and among the older rosters in the NHL.

So, a few extra days on the ice, is rather beneficial this time of the season.

“We aren’t a young team in the league by average age,” Blashill said. “We certainly have young players, but we have guys who could use those days off.

“(Henrik) Zetterberg was able to get two days off in a row, which is a rare thing as you get into December, to have opportunities to take days off without losing your structure and battle-tested competitiveness.”

Certainly, when facing the Blues (19-8-2, 40 points), it’s probably a good thing the Red Wings will be rested.

St. Louis has been one of the NHL’s best teams from the start of this season, possessing one of the most balanced rosters around.

“They’re a tough team to play against,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “You have to play a complete game when you play them.”

The Blues have always had the reputation of being a tight-checking, very good defensive team, and they continue to wear that this season.

But they’ve added an offensive element to their game, as well.

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“They’ve got a good record for a reason,” Blashill said. “They have a very good defensive core, one of the best in the league. They have good balance up front, a good goalie, it’s a well-coached team.

“The big thing, I’d say, is it’s hard ice, and it’s hard to get to the middle of the ice against them. It’s hard to create a lot of opportunities against them. We  have to be committed to get to the middle of the ice and have a shot first mentality and create chaos off that first shot.”