Red Wings begin rugged stretch against NHL's best
Detroit — The Red Wings are about to tackle a gauntlet that is pretty remarkable.
Beginning with Monday's game in Minnesota, the Wings are embarking on a seven-game segment in which they face seven of the top eight teams in the NHL:
► Monday at Minnesota (29-11-3, 61 points);
► Thursday at New York Rangers (30-13-4, 64 points);
► Feb. 23 vs. Colorado (33-8-4, 70 points);
► Feb. 26 vs. Toronto (30-12-3, 63 points);
► March 1 vs. Carolina (32-11-3, 67 points);
► March 4 at Tampa Bay (31-11-6, 68 points);
► March 5 at Florida (32-10-5, 69 points).
It's an incredible stretch, one that is daunting, but one the Wings are eager to tackle while attempting to maintain a spot in the playoff chase.
"It's going to be a good test for us," forward Robby Fabbri said. "We have some days in between each game so we can prepare and get ready, which is a little unusual. But in the end, we'll go out and no matter who the opponent, we have to do what makes us successful and when we're doing the right stuff it doesn't matter what team it is (they're playing), we're going to be successful."
The Wings enter this stretch with two impressive victories over Philadelphia, getting offense from all four lines, mostly playing stout defense, and getting winning goaltending.
"We're playing with confidence," Fabbri said. "We're having a lot of fun at practice and around the rink and that translates into playing on the ice. We have some real good young guys that are pushing us and making us great on any given night. It's been a lot of fun, and we're trying to keep it rolling.
"When you're playing for the playoffs, getting in there, it's always fun. That's what you want to do every single year, contend for the playoffs and eventually, contend for the (Stanley) Cup."
The Wings have earned points in five of their last six road games (3-1-2) after struggling away from Little Caesars Arena most of the season.
"There's been a recognition here and it's not easy, and not all the time, but of knowing the type of hockey we have to play to win and beat good teams," coach Jeff Blashill said. "When we've faced good teams we've done a pretty good job of managing the right way and playing the right way. But it'll be a good challenge and it's a great opportunity to see where we're at and it starts with a tough game in Minnesota.
"Certainly in the Pittsburgh, and parts of the Philadelphia game (both road victories), we played good hockey. We didn't give up a lot. The key to winning on the road, (against) any good teams and winning in the playoffs, is you don't give up a lot. The really good teams don't give up much and create a lot.
"It's something we are trying to grow and we're not perfect, but we're growing in some areas and we have to keep growing."
Goaltender Thomas Greiss made 32 saves in Saturday's victory over the Flyers, in his first start in five weeks (Jan. 9).
A combination of being in COVID-19 protocol, the emergence of goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, and the All-Star break kept Greiss on the bench, waiting for an opportunity.
Given a chance Saturday, Greiss responded favorably.
"The coach can give ice time, but the player has to give the coach confidence," Blashill said. "The more the player does, ultimately it leads to more opportunities. That's any player, but particularly a goalie. Greiss has done a good job for us in the past and after a long layoff, he played excellent overall. It was good to see for sure and it gives us a feeling we can have two goalies that night in and night out, can give us real good goaltending.
"If you can get that, it lessens the load on one guy and it gives you a chance to be successful."
The Wings flew quick as they could after Sunday's practice to get to Minnesota and catch the Super Bowl.
It didn't appear there were many real strong attachments or rooting interests in either the Rams or Bengals.
"I'm a Lions fan," Blashill said. "So I appreciate what (former Lions quarterback) Matthew Stafford did here in Detroit for sure, but I'm a Lions fan, not a LA Rams fan or a Bengals fan.
"I have a great appreciation for what (Stafford) is as an athlete and as a quarterback, and appreciate he's been in the top tier of quarterbacks in the league for a long time. But, again, I pull for the Lions."
Forward Vladislav Namestnikov didn't practice Sunday, and Blashill said Namestnikov was "questionable" for the game against the Wild.
... Defenseman Nick Leddy (upper body) missed the last two games, but Blashill anticipates Leddy to be ready to return Monday.
... Joe Veleno took Namestnikov's spot on a line with Michael Rasmussen and Adam Erne.
"It gives him a good opportunity and he kind of fills a need there in terms of a big body and smart enough defensively that he can go against good players," Blashill said. "It'll give an opportunity for a few more minutes (of ice time)."
Red Wings at Wild
► Faceoff: 8 p.m. Monday, Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM
► Outlook: The Wild (29-11-3) are coming off a big 3-2 victory Saturday over Carolina. ... The Wild have won eight of their last 10 games (8-1-1) and are 15-3-1 on home ice. ... LW Kirill Kaprizov (20 goals, 34 assists, 54 points) is developing into a premier player.