Detroit – There were glimpses last weekend – more than a few – of what this Red Wings team might be.
But Thursday, in an arena in which they rarely do well, the identity of this Red Wings team became a bit more clearer.
In the 4-2 victory in Montreal, the Red Wings consistently made things difficult for the Canadiens. The word "relentless" was used frequently in the locker room after the game, and it was appropriate.
The Wings are 3-1 and, led by the top line of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi – a line that has accounted for 20 points – the Wings are showing that they could be very difficult to play against this season.
“As the season goes on, we’re building a team identity,” Dylan Larkin said. “It’s a relentless work ethic, and it's never going away.
"We did that (Thursday). They score, make it 1-1, and we come back to make it 2-1 (30 seconds later). It was a huge third win for us on the road. We played a great game.”
That identity will be tested Saturday night as the ultra-talented Toronto Maple Leafs visit Little Caesars Arena. This could be a raucous and entertaining affair as the Original Six rivals tangle, with the Red Wings wanting to add sustenance to a good first week of the season.
Coach Jeff Blashill believes his players are gaining an understand of what they have to do to have consistent success.
“Our guys understand for us to be a good hockey team, we have to be workers, we have to be committed to doing it right,” Blashill said. “We have to be really good defensively, we have to have attention to detail and we have to be workers.”
In their 3-1 start, the Red Wings haven’t always been perfect. But no one can criticize their energy level.
“We worked, competed, and sacrificed,” Blashill said. “The sacrifice has shown in the blocked shots and work in the won puck battles and relentless pursuit of the puck.
“Against Toronto, we better be a hard forechecking team that is making them defend, otherwise it’s a hard night.
“Our team understands what it needs to be successful. I do think we have a full grasp of it.”
Veteran forward Darren Helm says there is a positive vibe being built, a strong bond.
“There’s definitely an excitement when guys do something good on the ice, guys are sticking together, guys are excited for a blocked shot, a good backcheck, stuff like that,” Helm said. “Guys are getting excited and that builds chemistry and brings the team together.”
Helm, who has been here through the playoff successes and now missing the playoffs the last three seasons, believes it’s a good sign seeing a team get rewarded for its work ethic.
“The last three years it’s always been, ‘You guys worked hard, you’re always in the game,’ but at the end of the day we didn’t get that payoff,” Helm said. “So far this season we’ve had the payoff.
“That builds some confidence and momentum, and hopefully we can continue to play those 60-minute games and find ways to win.”
Larkin, Mantha and Bertuzzi have been the stars, but the Wings are also getting contributions from other lines, and that will be vital for sustained success.
“We’re going to need enough scoring for sure,” Blashill said. “Whether we do it with a second line that really emerges or whether we do it with three lines that all can contribute. Certainly any line that (Andreas) Athanasiou can score at any point.
“The other lines have that ability to score and they believe they can help contribute. They have to do it in a certain manner, playing pucks behind people, being hard on the forecheck and being good in the offensive zone.”
The Maple Leafs are likely to arrive Saturday in an angry mood after losing 7-3 Thursday at home against Tampa Bay.
The Leafs (2-2-1) are winless in their last three games and critics are howling about the Leafs’ defensive struggles, goaltending and coach Mike Babcock’s system.
“That’s up to them to decide,” said Blashill, of whether the Leafs will be particularly motivated. “I know when they play on top of their game, they’re real good. We’ll have to work hard and be on top of our game.
“Anytime you have a tough loss, you have some fire in your belly. It’s not for us to worry about. We have to worry about ourselves.”
A fine line
Stats through four games for the Red Wings’ Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin:
Mantha: 6 goals, 2 assists, 21 shots, plus-5
Bertuzzi: 3 goals, 3 assists, 7 shots, plus-6
Larkin: 1 goal, 5 assists, 10 shots, plus-6
Maple Leafs at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Little Caesars Arena
TV/radio: FSD, CBC/97.1 FM
Outlook: Jeff Blashill said defenseman Filip Hronek was hurt late in Thursday’s victory and Hronek’s availability for Saturday will be known closer to game time. ... There has been no decision as to whether Evgeny Svechnikov will accompany the Wings on next week’s three-game trip through western Canada. Svechnikov was brought up from Grand Rapids when Frans Nielsen was hurt. Nielsen could be ready for Tuesday’s game in Vancouver. ... C Auston Matthews (six goals) and C Mitch Marner (six points) are off to hot starts for Toronto.