Blue Jackets explode on power play, down Red Wings, 4-2, in exhibition
Detroit —The Red Wings soundly defeated a minor league-laden Columbus roster last week in preseason action.
In Wednesday's exhibition game, the Blue Jackets dressed a more regular-season roster and the gained revenge, defeating the Red Wings 4-2 in Columbus.
"For sure they had a good lineup," forward Filip Zadina said. "I don't know if they had a full team playing today, but we battled through. We gave up a couple of goals on the penalty kill, but it was an even game for both sides (at even strength). We made a couple of mistakes, but we did a decent job."
Riley Barber and Dan Renouf scored early third-period goals for the Wings, tying the game 2-2 on Renouf's goal at 6 minutes 39 seconds.
But Columbus countered with goals from Jakub Voracek and Patrik Laine (power play), regaining the lead.
Voracek put back a rebound of Jake Bean's shot that bounded off the glass straight to Voracek at the post. Voracek flipped a shot past goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, who couldn't come across quick enough.
Then Laine iced the game with Columbus' third power-play goal of the night, at 15:39. Laine drove down the ice, faked Moritz Seider to skate free down the slot, and beat Nedeljkovic.
"Mo had moments of real good, looked like a bit of a difference-maker on the ice," said coach Jeff Blashill, noting the importance of learning how to play against a player like Laine. "This is what the preseason is for. That's why he's playing a lot of games to gain experience and understanding what a guy like Laine's moves are, so he sees those."
The Red Wings are 3-3-0 this exhibition season with two games left.
Oliver Bjorkstrand and Zach Werenski (Grosse Pointe/Michigan) had first period power-play goals for Columbus, 3:18 apart.
Nedeljkovic stopped 33 shots, but had two unfortunate bounces that cost him. Elvis Merzlikins stopped 19 shots for Columbus, including fine stops on Mitchell Stephens and Lucas Raymond in the second period.
"It was a step in the right direction," Blashill said of Nedeljkovic's first, full 60-minute game this exhibition season.
Bjorkstrand opened the scoring, putting back a rebound past Nedeljkovic.
Boone Jenner took a shot that bounced off Nedeljkovic's upper body and caromed straight to Bjorkstrand at the post. Bjorstrand quickly settled the puck, and snapped a shot past Nedeljkovic, stuck at the opposite post at 14:14.
Werenski extended the lead to 2-0 with another power play goal, on a shot from the high slot that sailed through a maze of bodies.
"I wasn't happy with the first (period)," Blashill said. "We didn't move the puck at all, we were in our end way too much, lost a lot of races and battles. It was similar to Chicago (Monday). We have to do a better job."
Finding his way
Givani Smith's position on the Red Wings' roster is likely secure.
He is out of options, so if the team was to waive him, he'd likely be picked up by another team for nothing.
Smith, 23, signed a two-year contact worth $1.5 million ($750,000 salary cap hit) during the offseason, a sign of the Wings' faith in him.
He has the physical presence (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and tough demeanor, the Wings' need on the roster.
But after three exhibition games, Smith has been relatively silent on the ice. He has no points and a minus-3 rating, averaging 11 minutes of ice time.
Coach Jeff Blashill said Smith could separate himself from the pack among the bottom-six forwards.
"He has to make sure he does a good job of getting the puck out of our end so he's not playing a ton of defensive zone coverage," Blashill said. "He has to get the puck deep when he gets into the neutral zone, forecheck hard and when he gets (the puck) in the offensive zone, he has to either take it to the net, or give it to somebody and get to the net and win all those net-front battles."
Smith played 16 games with the Wings last season with four points (one goal, three assists), a minus-5 rating and 21 penalty minutes. He had a Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist, fight) in one game. His willingness to stand up for smaller teammates was noted by players and Blashill.
Consistency has been an issue for Smith.
"(We) talked at the end of a shift last game," Blashill said. "He has to make sure he's sprinting all over the ice when he's out there. Sprinting and stopping. If he does those things, he's effective.
"He's had moments of doing a good job. He's a big body, he's tough, physical. Some of the physical toughness hasn't shown sometimes. That's a preseason thing. Can he be a little bit better? Yes. Has he had a tons of ice time? No, but he has to learn how to be effective in the minutes he's getting. ... That's likely the (amount) of minutes he's getting when the regular season starts."
Wednesday against Columbus, Smith again met some of that inconsistency. After agitating and using his strength for most of the game, Smith took a cross-checking penalty in the third period that led to a Blue Jackets goal.
"Smitty played real good for a lot of the game given the role and minutes, and (then) he took a bad penalty," Blashill said. "As I talked to Smitty on the bench, he has to do a good job of playing whistle to whistle and not attracting attention after the whistle.
"It's a maturation process."
Cuts are coming
The Wings have more players on the roster than other NHL teams. There are reasons.
The Wings have eight exhibition games this season, which prompts a need for two rosters to evaluate players and get them ready for the season.
The Wings also spent a bit more time than usual in training camp in Traverse City.
"The way our exhibition schedule works out, we spend that time in Traverse City, so we don't have exhibition games as early as some teams, this year even more," Blashill said. "We had an extra day in Traverse, so the schedule is real condensed for us. We need to keep more bodies around longer (both for games and evaluation purposes).
"We'll see after the next couple of games where everything stands."
Blashill said forward Michael Rasmussen continues to be day-to-day, and will not play Thursday. Rasmussen has been unavailable the last three games, after suffering an undisclosed injury late last week.
Forward Tyler Bertuzzi, who the Wings are gradually working back into game shape after back surgery, practiced and has been skating on his own this week.
"We'll see where it goes from there," said Blashill, noting Bertuzzi wasn't in the Columbus game lineup.
Blashill continues to like what he is seeing from forward Kirill Tyutyev.
"When you watch him play he's strong on the puck, makes a lot of good plays and he has a pretty good mind offensively," Blashill said. "There's stuff there, and I don't foresee him starting in Detroit, but I'll be interested to see how he does in Grand Rapids. It wouldn't surprise me if he was able to have lots of success."
... Blashill can see a roster configuration where both forwards Bobby Ryan (in camp on a professional tryout) and rookie Lucas Raymond make the roster. It's been presumed keeping both players would be difficult, but with injuries and the impressive play of Ryan and Raymond, the Wings might pull it off.
"If we feel both will help our hockey team, make us a way better hockey team, we'll keep them," Blashill said. "We're not going to release or not keep somebody who is going to make us way better."
Penguins at Red Wings
►Faceoff: 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Little Caesars Arena
►Outlook: The Red Wings near the end of the exhibition season with their next to last preseason game. ... The Penguins defeated the Red Wings 5-1 last Sunday in Pittsburgh. ... The Wings' next game at LCA will be the regular-season opener Oct. 14 against Tampa.
— Ted Kulfan