March 31, 2018; that’s the last time the Detroit Red Wings won a regular season game. 27 years; that’s the last time the Red Wings went winless in their first four games of the season. Despite these facts, Chris Ilitch is pleased with the direction of Detroit’s rebuild.
Thursday’s 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs pushed the Red Wings down to 0-2-2 on this young season. They garnered their only points in an OT loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on opening night, and a shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Ilitch joins fans in being excited about this young team’s future, while trying to largely ignore the win/loss column.
“Our emphasis is on scouting, on drafting and it’s on development,” Ilitch said. “When you look at the Detroit Red Wings organization, we’ve had 22 selections in the last two drafts, 13 of those were in the first three rounds. We have 11 selections in the 2019 draft and four of those are in the first three rounds. (General manager) Kenny Holland has done a marvelous job accumulating picks, which are so important to executing a successful rebuild. And I think you’re starting to see the fruits of the labor when you see five prospects make their NHL debut on opening night this year.”
Despite their winless record, the Red Wings youth are still picking up the points. Dylan Larkin is thus far on a point-per-game pace with two goals and two assists. Dennis Cholowski leads the defense corps in scoring with a goal and two assists. And the usual top forward line of Larkin, Gustav Nyquist, and Anthony Mantha has combined for nine points so far. However, the more telling column on the score sheet is the plus-minus column.
Christoffer Ehn leads the team with a plus-2 in that department, and then it’s downhill from there. You have a whole slew of players between a plus-1 and a minus-1, snowballing all the way down to a minus-5, surprisingly held by Nyquist. This highlights the defensive growing pains of this young team and the need for veteran experience in the lineup; players such as Niklas Kronwall and Mike Green.
Head coach Jeff Blashill believes they played well Thursday night, just not “well enough”.
“Their skilled guys out-competed our skilled guys in the second, so we didn’t have the puck enough,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “When we had the puck, we missed the net on every shot we could. You got to hit the net to create chaos and create more zone time. The contested puck battles in that period were really lopsided for them and the contested puck battles in the third period were really lopsided for us.”
The Red Wings will try to shake off the loss and move on to the next game, Saturday against the Boston Bruins.