Detroit — Your friends are texting about playoff tickets, fans are joking (are they?) about the prospect of going undefeated, and for a moment it’s all about hockey again.
Crazy what winning your first two games will do.
The Red Wings’ 4-3 victory Sunday against Dallas — what with Anthony Mantha scoring all four goals, also — made everyone forget about football for a while.
Hockey season began at Little Caesars Arena, and the Wings provided exciting entertainment.
Mantha was the story Sunday, exploding for those four goals, including the winner with 53.3 seconds left.
Mantha and his linemates Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin have been extraordinary these first two games, picking up where they left off last season.
But there have been other positive developments in these opening 120 minutes of hockey.
Baby steps to be sure, and only a blip on the schedule.
But for a team like the Wings, who weren’t picked by anyone, anywhere, to be much of anything this season, two victories in two games against strong teams like Nashville and Dallas is the perfect way to start a season.
Here are some of the takeouts from these two victories that should give fans some early optimism:
Larkin line still on fire
Through two games, Mantha has seven points (five goals, two assists), Bertuzzi five points (two goals, three assists) and Larkin four points (one goal, three assists). That’s a mind-boggling 16 points between them.
They have combined for eight of the Wings’ nine goals goals, and 16 of the team's 25 points, carrying over last season’s torrid finish.
“Our message was when we get back to Detroit, when we’re back together, we’re going to hit the ground running,” said Larkin, relaying a conversation the line had in May at the world championships.
Pretty quickly, opposing teams will be keying on the Larkin line, which will force the thus far non-existent rest of the offensive attack to do something, anything.
Andreas Athanasiou (lower body) has missed the first two games, which hasn’t helped the scoring depth. But once Athanasiou returns, Larkin is confident the Wings will produce offensively.
“Our team’s going to be more dangerous when he comes back,” Larkin said. “It’s hard to keep up what the first two games have brought for our line. Teams are going to start keying for us. We scored dirty goals, scored on the power play, we scored a big goal at the end (Sunday).
“If we can keep producing and we get Double-A back, and he’s going to be flying, our team offense is going to be dangerous.”
There’s a lot of pressure on the Larkin line, and will be all season, to consistently produce offense. But coach Jeff Blashill said they can handle the responsibility.
“When you feel like you’re such a big piece of winning and losing, sometimes you force things,” Blashill said. “As you get older, you learn to take what is given a little bit and you try to capitalize on your chances without having to force everything. That’s part of the maturation process of that line.
“Their line is not alone. There’s lots of lines around the league that have the same type of pressure, and they are totally equipped to handle it.”
Mantha was named second star in the NHL for his weekend’s goal-scoring exploits, and might have many more honors this season if he can sustain, even closely, the pace he set these first two games.
Mantha looked like one of the premier players in the NHL opening weekend, and you get the sense he and the Wings feel Mantha can somewhat continue that performance.
“When he’s hot, he can be one of the best in the world,” Larkin said. “We’re seeing that right now. He’s in a zone.”
Said Blashill: “The thing about Anthony is he’s a good person who cares, and he wants to be real good player. That’s never been questioned throughout my time with him. I’ve been with him a long time, and he cares a bunch and he wants to be good.
“If you look at his history, by the time he’d been in major junior, he was a dominant player. By the time he spent in the American League, he became a dominant player. I’m hoping he can do the same thing in the NHL. It’s a hard deal, it’s the top of the pyramid. But when he skates, he can be a dominant player, and the line can be real good.”
Close 'em out
In the three years the Wings have missed the playoffs, there have been too many games they’ve let get away late, not being able to hold the lead or shut down an opponent.
The way the Wings were able to steady themselves in both these victories against good teams when things looked to be going badly was a bright spot.
“We’ve had some tough go’s last year (closing out games), and it’s something we really emphasized toward the end of the stretch last year,” Larkin said. “When we’re in one-goal games, let’s make it hard for the other team – they don’t get easy goals.
“It’s not going to be perfect every night, like you saw (Sunday) they responded right away (tying the game early in the third period), but there was no panic.”
Don't get carried away
They were both victories, but the outcomes were in doubt until late in the game, the power play is 1-for-10, and the lack of scoring depth will be an issue.
The Wings understand there are 80 games left and a whole lot of peaks and valleys. But they wanted a good start to this season, needed it, and through two days, they’ve got it.
“We needed a good start,” Blashill said. “Two games doesn’t mean to me a good start, we have lots of work to do. But 2-0 is better than the opposite, it helps breed belief, and confidence in this league is a huge thing.”
Anaheim Ducks at Red Wings
► Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
► Outlook: Anaheim is exactly like the Wings through two games: a rebuilding team off to a nice 2-0-0 start and riding confidence from a successful opening weekend. … C Ryan Getzlaf, D Cam Fowler (Farmington Hills) and G John Gibson will carry the Ducks this season.