Penalty problems plaguing Red Wings in early season
Dylan Larkin had just scored a power-play goal, the Red Wings were outplaying the Montreal Canadiens, and the usually raucous Bell Centre crowd was silent.
The Wings seemed on their way to a delightful Saturday evening in Quebec.
Then things went haywire.
A growing Wings' issue, taking penalties, surfaced. Three consecutive whistles against them, all in the offensive zone, put Montreal in control. The Canadiens waltzed to a 6-1 win.
"We had good energy, we were on top of them, we were playing good hockey," coach Jeff Blashill said. "We score on the power play.
"We took three offensive-zone penalties, and that's something that's plagued us here throughout the early part of the season. We've taken too many penalties. We've talked about it. We have to stay out of the box and be more disciplined in those areas."
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Gustav Lindstrom and Danny DeKeyser had tripping calls, and Filip Zadina, a high-sticking infraction during that stretch. Montreal scored twice in that span, once on the power play and another goal shortly after a power play expired.
The Wings couldn't recover. Detroit is averaging just under six penalties per game, tied for second most in the NHL.
“Sometimes there are good penalties, and you need to take them out of desperation to maybe stop a scoring chance,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “We’re not taking those type of penalties. We’re taking stick penalties and tripping, kind of needless penalties away from the play and those will hurt you.”
The Wings can't have sustained success playing shorthanded so often.
"I’ve addressed it with our team,” Blashill said. “At the end of the night, we can’t expect to take this many penalties and expect to win.”
One and only
Elliotte Friedman, Hockey Night in Canada's insider, said Saturday New Jersey goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood has begun the COVID-19 vaccination process. That leaves one remaining unvaccinated NHL player: Tyler Bertuzzi.
Not in Saturday's lineup in Montreal, because of Canada's border restrictions against unvaccinated individuals, Bertuzzi could miss nine games in Canada this season due to the ban. Bertuzzi will lose approximately $450,000 in salary.
Not having Bertuzzi wasn't the Wings' only issue Saturday, but they're a better team with him.
“He’s a real good player," Blashill said. "The extent to which you miss Tyler depends on how the guys who fill some of those responsibilities play. If they play great, then the loss is less than if they don’t play great."
Bertuzzi has maintained not being vaccinated is a personal choice. He has shown no inclination to change his mind.
Blashill moved Robby Fabbri into Bertuzzi's spot on Larkin's line. Carter Rowney moved into the lineup on the fourth line.
Blashill called out one position group as underachieving.
“There’s still more from our group of forwards, especially," Blashill said. "There’s still more from a number of guys. We need guys playing at their A game.”
Free-agent acquisition Pius Suter is without a point through five games. Zadina (one goal, one assist) and Michael Rasmussen (two assists) each had two points. Fourth-liners Mitchell Stephens and Rowney were both minus-three Saturday. Stephens, who had an impressive preseason, is still looking for his first point.
"We had too many that weren’t to their A game," Blashill said. "It was not lack of care, work, or compete. They just have to play better.”
Lack of support
Goaltender Thomas Greiss has been one of the Wings' best players in the early season.
Greiss was pulled halfway through Saturday's game after allowing five goals on 17 shots. He got little support from his teammates defensively.
As Montreal was pulling away, the Wings allowed a litany of odd-man rushes, leaving Greiss to fend for himself.
"We were giving them some pretty good looks," Staal said. "I mean, one of them goes off my skate and in. The other ones are just 2-on-1s and 3-on-2s, so (Greiss is) not to blame. We weren't giving him enough support and just making it easy on them."