Detroit — When a team is winning, the locker-room atmosphere is noticeably different than when losses are piling up.
Three consecutive victories will do that, after you’ve stumbled out of the gate to start the season.
“It’s always a more fun mood when you win,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Everybody’s a little more lighter. It’s more enjoyable. It’s just the reality of it.”
Thursday’s 4-3 victory over New Jersey, another impressive game from the Wings in a variety of areas, gave the team the latest reason to feel good about themselves.
One of the primary reasons for the victories is the Wings’ ability to keep the play in the offensive zone and wearing opponents physically — or scoring, or creating scoring chances.
Blashill feels like his team has been creating its style of play in these victories.
“We’ve started to build a bit of an identity in the offensive zone, doing a good job of grinding teams,” Blashill said. “Even when it doesn’t create a ton of chances, it’s a grind and we’ve been hard at the net.
“You end up your best defense is playing in the other team’s end and it didn’t show itself for a while, but it’s starting to show itself now.”
Defenseman Danny DeKeyser is returning to the lineup Saturday after missing the last three weeks with a hand injury.
Watching the games, DeKeyser has noticed the Wings playing with a different type of desperation.
“We’re just playing harder, from what I can see,” DeKeyser said. “I just think our compete level is higher and we’re battling a lot more. It just seems like we’re winning battles, so that’s helping.
“Having better determination, shooting pucks on net, getting traffic to the net, getting rebounds. We’re also getting a little puck luck, and that always helps.”
In all these three victories the game has been in the balance in the third period — but the Wings found a way to grab a victory.
Considering how the start of the season went, that’s a big step forward.
“We found a way and that’s really what matters right now,” said forward Frans Nielsen, whose return to the lineup is day-to-day. “Right now it’s all about finding a way to every night.”
The Wings have faced some difficult individual matchups in the season’s first month, but Saturday’s against Edmonton’s Connor McDavid could top them all.
McDavid is off to another sensational start, with nine goals and 10 assists (19 points) in 12 games.
Unlike last season, when the Oilers were a major disappointment, Edmonton trails Pacific Division leading Calgary by two points (17-15).
McDavid’s ability to consistently produce offense has been a key reason for Edmonton’s fine start.
“He can do everything at such a high level of speed,” Blashill said. “He can change direction, control the puck, and make plays at a high speed. It’s things that most guys don’t have.
“There’s no question he’s a generational talent.”
As has been the case these opening weeks, Blashill will gladly play Dylan Larkin head-to-head against a player such as McDavid.
“Dylan enjoys the competition of going against the other team’s best,” Blashill said. “In Connor, he has a heck of a challenge in front of him.”
Nielsen practiced Friday, but Blashill didn’t express hope Nielsen would be in the lineup against the Oilers.
Andreas Athanasiou didn’t practice Friday, so Blashill ruled him out.
Another dent to the lineup occurred after Thursday’s game, as defenseman Jonathan Ericsson suffered a minor injury — and will not play against Edmonton.
“He had an injury postgame,” Blashill said. “He will be out (Saturday), day-to-day.”
The only real positive was the sight of DeKeyser returning to the lineup.
“We had a good practice, good skate, I did some battle stuff in the corner and it all felt good,” DeKeyser said. “I’m going to give it a go.”
Oilers at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7 p.m., Saturday
TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Oilers (7-4-1, 15 points) are off to a fine start, including winning seven of their last 10 (7-2-1)…C Connor McDavid (19 points) understandably gets the attention, but C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (14 points) and C Leon Draisaitl (14 points) have gotten off to quick starts.