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Winless Red Wings pull positives from West Coast trip

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Many Red Wings fans were soundly asleep when they played their last two games in Southern California.

Red Wings defenseman Dennis Cholowski continues to impress in the early going.

Maybe, just as well. Maybe not, depending on your perspective.

They lost both games by slim margins. In Los Angeles, 4-2 with the Kings scoring a late empty-net goal and in Anaheim, 3-2, in a shootout (the Ducks won the shootout 1-0).

Monday’s defeat probably stung a bit more because the Ducks are as physically beat-up as the Wings, and like the Wings, had six rookies in the lineup. There was a potential to grab two points there.

Bright spots like an extremely young and inexperienced defense holding its own in these games were balanced out by the Wings over-passing and eliminating goal-scoring opportunities.

The kids, largely, are making a positive impression, playing through predictable mistakes and getting valuable NHL experience.

So, what did you miss in Games 2 and 3 of the regular season?

Here’s a brief checklist to get you up to date:

► That young defense isn’t playing badly at all: It’s almost getting to the point where you begin to wonder what’ll happen when Trevor Daley (upper body), Jonathan Ericsson (upper body), Mike Green (infection) and Niklas Kronwall (lower body) begin returning to the lineup – all are day-to-day except for Green, who is more week-to-week — and some of these young players are sent to Grand Rapids.

Dennis Cholowski is here to stay, he’s played well. Filip Hronek and Libor Sulak have had ups and downs, though both have shown NHL-ability mostly, and getting sent back to Grand Rapids, you wonder how beneficial that really would be. Joe Hicketts appears low man on the totem pole among the four young defensemen, and could be the first one returned to the AHL.

What’s been impressive about the four is they’ve been aggressive, not afrad to make mistakes, they’ve played physical, and particularly in Cholowski’s case, they’ve injected offense into the equation, particularly on the power play.

► How about Christoffer Ehn? The surprise of the preseason is slowly becoming the surprise of the regular season.

Ehn played approximately 15 minutes Monday and, given the ice time, had his best game.

You saw what coach Jeff Blashill and front office have been raving about — his fine defense, mature game given his pro experience in Sweden, promising offense, speed and quickness.

Ehn has been adequate in the faceoff circle, but at 39 percent, there’s room for improvement. If Ehn improves that area, you truly have an intriguing prospect.

►The Wings have scored exactly two goals in each of the three losses: In today’s NHL, generally speaking, you need three or four, and in Blashill’s estimation there were scoring opportunities on the Wings didn’t capitalize on because they were looking for the perfect pass or play.

“We know it’s going to be tight every night,” Blashill told reporters after the Anaheim game. “We certainly feel we can score more than we have, as I said, through just some simple stuff.

“Mainly, shoot when we have those opportunites to (shoot).”

The Wings are winless in three games: It could be time to begin playing the scheduling game and see exactly where that first victory is happening.

The scary part is, there aren’t many “softies” coming up.

Home against Toronto Thursday, followed by road games in Boston, Montreal, Tampa and Florida, then homes games against Carolina and Winnipeg.

Those are all teams that are either Stanley Cup contenders, or in Montreal and Carolina’s case , look like improved teams.

The Wings need a victory, or victories, to stay afloat, and if nothing else, get affirmation for some positive development.

“We are just going to stay the course,” said forward Gustav Nyquist, one of the Wings’ best forwards in this season's first week. “We have liked the way we played, especially the first two games. We are going to be fine in here if we keep competing the way we are.”