Little Caesars Arena becoming a real home-ice advantage for Red Wings
Detroit — The losing has been a major reason. The fact Little Caesars Arena itself is such an elite facility that fans want to explore and not necessarily watch hockey has also been a factor.
All that made for the Red Wings lacking any sort of home-ice advantage at their new building. The Wings weren't good enough and fans wanted to check out the arena more than the home team.
Nothing like Joe Louis Arena, with championship rosters and terrifying noise levels for opponents. But this season at LCA, it's been different.
Saturday's 3-2 overtime victory over Buffalo raised the Wings' record at home to 7-2-2. The Wings are back over .500 (10-9-3) and a large part of that, obviously, is because of the success at LCA.
Fans have been showing up, staying in their seats and cheering on a team that continues to surprise.
“We play well here,” said forward Dylan Larkin, donning his alma mater's Michigan cap after Saturday's victories (both the Wings and UM football). “The fans have been showing up, the atmosphere has been great. We’re just get excited to be here."
The Wings played most of last season without fans at LCA, except for a few games toward the end of the pandemic-shortened campaign when approximately 500 fans were allowed inside.
The difference this season, with large crowds gathering again, has been startling.
"It was a long year without fans, we missed them a ton," Larkin said. "To have them back and to play in this building, some of the loudest moments that I’ve heard here since it’s been open have happened this year.
"We have to keep going to make sure there’s louder moments and we’re right there in a playoff spot, where we want to be.”
The Wings recorded their third straight home win and first three-game home winning streak since Dec. 31, 2019 to Jan. 10, 2020.
The announced attendance Saturday was 18,050, but it appeared like the snowy conditions kept many fans away. Still, it was a boisterous and energetic crowd that got the Wings ignited at key parts in the game.
“They’ve been awesome,” coach Jeff Blashill said of the fans. “I know the roads weren’t great (Saturday night) so it’s hard for everybody to get down here, but the crowd was great. The energy in this building has been great.
"That’s a huge reason why we’re 7-2-2 (at LCA). It gives so much momentum to our guys when the crowd is like that.”
When the Wings defeated Buffalo earlier this season, it was rookie defenseman Moritz Seider who won it with an overtime goal.
On Saturday, it was forward Lucas Raymond who duplicated the ending.
Raymond skated up the ice in overtime, basically went 1-on-3 against the Sabres, and wristed a shot past goalie Dustin Tokarski. It was Raymond's rookie-leading ninth goal and 21st point, and supplied another highlight to an already expanding collection of memorable highlights.
“He’s got talent and confidence for sure,” Blashill said. “Not a lot of guys are scoring from there. He’s got a really good shot. Razor got better as the game went along. Early he wasn’t moving his feet enough, but as the game went along, he got much better.”
Down and dirty
The Wings haven't been scoring many "dirty goals" around the opposing team's net, where it's particularly physical and gritty.
But trailing 1-0, the Wings were able to take a 2-1 lead on just those types of goals from Carter Rowney and Pius Suter, just 1 minute, 19 seconds apart in the second period.
“We haven’t been a good team screening the goalie and you’re just not going to score consistently if you don’t,” Blashill said. “Tokarski has been really good for them, and he’s a real athletic goalie who can make big-time saves. You have to find ways to score dirty, especially when a goalie is feeling it.”
One Red Wing who made an impact screening Tokarski and was noticeable around the net was forward Givani Smith.
Getting playing time on a line with Robby Fabbri and Suter, Smith drew an assist on Suter's goal and took advantage of his opportunity.
“He (Smith) has played more consistently and at a better level here in the last bit,” Blashill said. “I’ve rewarded him with more ice time on that line and he played good. He’s a big body around the net, hard around the net. He finds ways to win puck battles down low and that’s important.”