Detroit – The last two games have been different.
When the Detroit Red Wings moved into Little Caesars Arena, it was assumed there would be a transition period.
To expect a distinct and powerful home-ice advantage instantly – after definitely having one at Joe Louis Arena – was a lot to ask.
It’s taken a while. The Wings have had announced sellouts of 19,515 for all 20 of their home games. But crowds have occasionally been disappointing, and turnout hasn’t been helped by the team’s poor performance at times.
But the last two home games – wins over the Rangers and Penguins – the fans have made some noise. Slowly, LCA is becoming a place where the Wings can enjoy a home-ice advantage.
“We’ve had some good crowds the last few games,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “It’s been loud and energetic. They’ve done a good job of getting involved. The last game was kind of fun when they showed (Pittsburgh’s Sidney) Crosby (to a chorus of boos); it gets the crowd going.
“Just stuff like that can create a good environment and, obviously, winning helps that, too.”
Many players remarked after Sunday’s New Year’s Eve victory over Pittsburgh about the raucous atmosphere and the impact it can have.
Joe Louis Arena was known for is intimate atmosphere – players often talked about how the fans seemed right on top of the action – and the lack of big crowds impacted the overall LCA experience the first half of the season.
But that could be reversing itself as the 2018 portion of the schedule begins.
“The last two games, the crowd was great,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Part of it is a feeling-out process here – the fans getting know the building. And there’s so much to see, that at times they weren’t in the stands.
“Lately, it’s been better, more full in the bowls, and the atmosphere is great.
“Part of that is our job to make sure we give them good hockey, and the last two games, we were able to win and that increases the atmosphere.”
Blashill acknowledged that players notice when fans are in the seats.
“Without question you notice it when the bowls are full,” Blashill said. “When it’s not (full), the atmosphere isn’t as good. It’s just the reality of the situation. But again, that’s a lot of our responsibility to give them real good hockey.
“We came from a real loud building in JLA. That rink, when the puck dropped it was a great building because it’s a wall of people and a great atmosphere. This building is every bit as loud and that’s real hard to do when you build these new buildings. Lots of times you lose that atmosphere. It doesn’t feel as tight. This building does.
“The building has great atmosphere if you give the fans something to cheer about.”
Forward Tyler Bertuzzi is staying for the remainder of the season.
Bertuzzi was called up two weeks ago when Luke Glendening injured his hand and has impressed the coaching staff, playing on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist.
“He does a lot of good things that translate to this level and translate to hard hockey,” Blashill said. “The harder the hockey, the better he is. That’s why Hank (Zetterberg) seems to have better second halves. They know how to play when the space gets tighter.
“He’s one of those real good complementary wingers.”
Forward Anthony Mantha (groin) returned to practice Tuesday after missing the last two games.
Mantha appears set to play Wednesday against Ottawa.
“It’s a different mindset when you’re not playing; you come in here and cheer the boys on, but it’s not as fun,” Mantha said. “It’s way better playing. You can’t wait to get back out there.
“It felt real good (Tuesday) – no restrictions. Should be ready to go.”
SENATORS AT RED WINGS
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Little Caesars Arena
TV/radio: FSD Plus/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Senators (12-17-8, 32 points) have struggled mightily this season, with injuries and disappointing performances playing a factor. … RW Mark Stone (15 goals, 19 assists) is one of few Senators playing to expectations.