Hard conversations part of Lalonde's dealings with Red Wings players
Detroit — There's been some tough discussions in the Red Wings' meeting rooms this week.
Bad losses to New Jersey (6-2) and Boston (5-1) exposed a variety of issues, and coach Derek Lalonde has had to address it with different players.
"I had some hard conversations with a lot of different guys (Wednesday) morning," said Lalonde, after Tuesday's Devils loss. "That's all part of it."
This is Lalonde's first NHL head coaching job, but he isn't a novice to be the head man behind the bench.
Lalonde has been a head coach for seven years in the American League, along with the junior hockey and college levels. He was also an assistant with the two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning before joining the Wings.
Lalonde talked this week about how the Wings use video to show players mistakes that are made. Often, mistakes are highlighted on video when shown team-wide, and it's in those situations, where coaching is particularly tricky.
What Lalonde learned as an assistant is, it's a good idea to give a player notice if that player is going to be used an example in a team-wide setting. There's nothing personal. It's simply to help the player, and team, recognize the right and wrong way.
"If I'm going to have a really hard conversation, if some of our players are going to show up in the team video in a hard way, sometimes that's a good heads-up for the assistant," Lalonde said. "(Maybe in a) one-on-one meeting, or video, don’t be surprised if you see this in the video, take it constructively, the right way That's all part of managing.
"You hope to be able to manage them the right way. I don't know if you can continue to beat on them in those ways. You have to have a mixture of both (positive, negative) and that's where we’re at with it."
One of Lalonde's strengths, said general manager Steve Yzerman upon naming Lalonde head coach, was communication. Players have talked about how fairly and openly Lalonde has dealt with people.
"He cares about his players, I've seen that," captain Dylan Larkin said. "He's very patient, calm behind the bench, which I really like. He's demanding, but he's going to have to be. He's had some uncomfortable conversations already and I expect there to be more, and I expect it to help our team."
Chances are, not too many bets would have had forward Dominik Kubalik leading the Wings in scoring heading into Saturday's game, with October nearly coming to a close.
Kubalik had a team-leading 10 points and six assists, and was tied with Larkin and David Perron with a team-high four goals.
Chicago, interestingly, chose not to extend Kubalik a qualifying offer after last season, making Kubalik an unrestricted free agent. Days later, when free agency began, Yzerman quickly signed Kubalik a two-year contract worth $5 million ($2.5 million per year cap hit).
Lalonde had Kubalik among the bottom-six forwards in the preseason and the start of the regular season. But the rash of injuries quickly skyrocketed Kubalik to the top line, where Kubalik hasn't looked out of place.
Thus far, the Kubalik and Red Wings pairing has fit perfectly.
"I was kind of looking to get back where I was when I came (from Europe) and get back to my game," Kubalik said. "Last year, pretty much the whole season, I just didn't feel like myself. I wasn't getting scoring chances. I didn't even shoot.
"My mindset before the season was that I want to get back where I can be and where I can improve my game. So far it's been good. But obviously I didn’t think it would be that good."
Given forward Michael Rasmussen's two-game suspension handed down Friday by the NHL's department of player safety, the Wings recalled forward Givani Smith.
Smith, 24, had one point (an assist) and four penalty minutes in three games for the Wings' minor league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins.
Smith (6-foot-2, 214 pounds) spent last season with the Wings, playing 46 games with four goals and three assists and 108 penalty minutes. The rugged forward became the first Wings player to surpass 100 minutes since Justin Abdelkader had 120 penalty minutes in 2015-16.
Smith was one of the Wings' final cuts out of the preseason. The Wings basically kept young forwards Joe Veleno and Elmer Soderblom over Smith, who has played 83 games with the Wings, recording 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) and 138 penalty minutes.
Rasmussen will also miss Monday's game in Buffalo.