Red Wings learn hard lesson from defensive, veteran Stars

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — The NHL can administer tough, crushing lessons to a young team still learning how to win.

The Red Wings, still in the formative stages of development, found that out yet again Saturday.

Red Wings defenseman Dennis Cholowski (21) checks  Stars center Joe Pavelski (16) during the third period Saturday night in Detroit.

The Wings have been taking some interesting steps forward since the start of the second half of this shortened season. Baby steps, for sure, but some welcome, positive steps forward for a change.

Winning games against some of the NHL's elite teams — Tampa Bay, Carolina and Dallas — felt good.

But after defeating Stanley Cup finalist Dallas on Thursday, the Wings couldn't complete the sweep. The Stars patiently won 3-0 Saturday and taught the Wings some of those hard-earned lessons.

“I really felt the past couple weeks, since I came back from injury, we were taking a step in close games and learning how to win,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “That was a really close game (Saturday) for two periods, and it wasn’t the way we had to play in the final half of the game.”

The veteran, stingy Stars gladly accepted, and took advantage of every Wings gift. It was a rather difficult game to watch — and probably play — but Dallas left town with two valuable points.

"Everything they got, we gave to them," Larkin said. "For a long part of that game, it was 0-0 and not much was going on. A lot of interference, and not a lot of open lanes, close checking. We gave them what they got and they didn't give us much.

"We made it hard on ourselves and the other team made it hard on us.”

What has made the Stars such a consistent playoff contender is a big, strong roster keyed by a particularly talented defense group.

The entire Stars lineup is committed to shutting down opponents. The Wings would love to duplicate some of Dallas’ style.

“What we’re trying to do here is learn how to be a good defensive team,” Blashill said. “Protecting the critical part of the ice, making sure we’re above people, making it hard for opponents to get to our net. We haven’t been perfect at it but we’re trying to build it and ultimately, if you do that, you’re in every game and you learn how to win those close games. You become a good hockey team and those teams are the ones to go on long playoff runs.

“Certainly there are parts of their game we’d like to emulate. Without a doubt we’d like to be a team that is top-10 defensively in a lot of categories (as Dallas is). When we get there, we’ll win more games and we’re working hard toward that.

“They’re consistently one of the best teams in the league defensively, so they’re very hard to create against. Ultimately, we probably gave them opportunities. Those types of games you got to find a way not to beat yourself. You have to be OK with going out there and not much happening on your shift.”

Cholowski debuts

Defenseman Dennis Cholowski, officially called up to the Wings earlier Saturday, made his season debut playing just over 12 minutes, with one hit and one blocked shot.

Cholowski was on the power play, where he’s really counted on to make an impact, but the Wings couldn’t get anything going with the man advantage.

"It’s a very small sample size, but he did good,” Blashill said.

Blashill emphasized the last several days that Cholowski, the Wings’ 2016 first-round draft pick, has to utilize the strengths he’s blessed with.

“Be a great puck-mover, get us out of our zone fast and through the neutral zone, be a threat offensively on the rush and on the offensive blue line, a threat on the power play,” Blashill said. “Where he’s needed to improve is on the defensive game.”

The Wings’ and Grand Rapids Griffins’ coaching staffs have often drilled Cholowski on what he needs to do defensively. Primarily, win puck battles and end plays in the defensive zone.

“Those are things he's heard a lot about, and he has went to work,” Blashill said. “Those are things he’s been consistently good at in GR and that’s what gives me excitement that he’ll carry it forward here.”

Ice chips

Bobby Ryan returned to the lineup Saturday and played just under 13 minutes, bumping Evgeny Svechnikov to the healthy-scratch category. Christian Djoos was the defenseman who sat, with Cholowski entering into the lineup.

… The Wings concluded the six-game homestand with a 3-2-1 record against Tampa, Carolina and Dallas, earning seven of a possible 12 points.

… Saturday’s shutout was the fourth time the Wings have been blanked this season.

Twitter: @tkulfan