Red Wings get their biggest win of the year over Lightning: Six observations


TAMPA — It got a little too exciting at the end, with four goals in the last six minutes (all of them with the goalie pulled), but the Red Wings got a big win for head coach Derek Lalonde Tuesday in his first game against his former team, the Lightning.

Even beyond the sentimentality, though, it was perhaps Detroit’s best win of the season — a performance that started with strong defense through the first two periods, some timely offense, and closed with big-time goaltending from Ville Husso to withstand a Lightning push in the third period.

Here’s six observations from the game, and on where the Red Wings stand through 25 games.

1. Detroit’s game through two periods — and especially in the second period — was about as good as you can hope for against a team as talented as the Lightning. They totaled just 16 shots on goal through two periods.

Tampa Bay found its way to a couple chances regardless, but the Red Wings did a lot to limit what the Lightning were able to generate in transition.

“We disrupted the rush,” Lalonde said. “We did a good job gapping, good job having bodies back through the middle of the ice, and it actually was helping us in transition. We were getting offense on it. That’s just when we’re good: when we don’t give up the ice, we don’t give up the neutral zone.”

Detroit’s forwards are a huge part of that, tracking back and staying on top of the Lightning. But among the defensemen, I was especially impressed once again by the pair of Filip Hronek and Olli Määttä, who just seem to get better and better.

Hronek’s offense has been the big story of his season so far — and he added a couple more assists Tuesday — but he was certainly a big part of slowing down the Lightning early on Tuesday. He and Määttä finished the game with an expected goals share north of 60 percent, according to Evolving Hockey.

2. Of course, the Lightning were never going to go quietly, and they put an astounding 30 shots on Husso in the third period alone.

But as he’s done so often this year, the Red Wings’ 27-year-old netminder rose to the task and denied 28 of them — with the only two he allowed coming while the Lightning had an extra skater with a pulled goalie.

“At that point, I wasn’t thinking shutout or anything,” Husso said. “It’s just like, get the win.”

And he did, yet again. In Husso’s 18 starts so far, the Red Wings now have 11 wins and at least a point in 14 of them.

The Red Wings seem conscious of his workload, and Lalonde said Nedeljkovic will “definitely” get one of the final two games on the road trip — at Florida Thursday or at Dallas Saturday — but Husso has played like a legit starter through 25 team games. It’s going to be fascinating to watch how they manage his workload, having only started 38 games last season but already nearly halfway to that total.

3. As much as the Red Wings have preached process all year, actually getting the result over an elite team such as the Lightning is a big deal for this team. They played well against Toronto last week, but lost in regulation after the Maple Leafs elite talent made the most of their chances. They were OK against Vegas too, but ended up with a 4-1 loss.

The third-period onslaught is going to skew the game’s overall underlying numbers, but Detroit really did earn this win with their play for most of the night. They made stops. They produced simple offense. Heck, they probably deserved even more early if not for an outstanding first period by Andrei Vasilevskiy.

You can’t read too much into a regular season game — especially given what the Lightning looked like when they really had to push in the third period — but there has to be some real reassurance in that locker room right now going into face two more top teams in Florida and Dallas.

After the game, Michael Rasmussen — who scored the game’s first goal — was asked how the feeling around the team is different from past seasons. And after opening simply with “more wins,” his answer was revealing as to the team’s confidence.

“I think everyone just expects to win a whole lot more,” Rasmussen said. “I think you’re kind of seeing it in games like that. Maybe in the past few years we haven’t found a way to pull that one out. I think just overall, that — everyone’s collectively getting the job done to win more hockey games

4. Lalonde arrived at his postgame press conference prepared with a stat of his own, and it really was quite the stat.

“I think someone told me it was the fourth straight win on the road, it’s the first time since like 2015 or ’16,” he said — and he’s exactly right. Their four straight wins over Columbus (twice), San Jose and Tampa Bay mark the first time Detroit has done that since the 2015-16 season, when Detroit ripped off a four-game win streak on an early-January road trip.

It’s especially fascinating that they’ve been able to do that, though, given the team’s early struggles on the road. After winning their first road game of the season at New Jersey, Detroit lost five of its next six away from Little Caesars Arena. They’re now technically 7-4-3 away from home.

The initial theory, while they struggled, was that opponents were exploiting the last chance to get favorable matchups against a Detroit team that didn’t start out as one of the league’s most talented, and was decimated by injuries beyond that. And even now that they’re healthier, they’re still without Tyler Bertuzzi and Jakub Vrana, in addition to Robby Fabbri.

But whether it’s via internal progression from players or something else, Lalonde actually pointed to the team’s depth in why he thinks they’ve now been able to find some road success — including against a Lightning team that is a walking matchup problem.

“I just think the depth in our (lineup),” he said. “Having four lines, kind of a little synergy with the lines, just getting some rhythm, staying out of the box. … I just think we’re managing our game.”

5. If improved depth is part of the answer to that question, then you can’t look past the play of rookie Jonatan Berggren there. Playing on a line with Joe Veleno — who himself appears to have taken a step this season — and Austin Czarnik, Detroit’s fourth line suddenly looks dangerous, and they were once again on Tuesday. Berggren ended up with a goal on a redirection from a Määttä shot, giving him eight points through 12 games. It’s been a great start for him, and that’s been big for Detroit.

“He’s got a confidence about him with the puck,” Lalonde said. “And we don’t have a lot of similar type playmakers, I think he complements our lineup very well. I mean, you talk about poise — he literally almost gives up a breakaway on the power play, (off an) awful backhand pass, I think most players would be rattled by that. He ends up taking the puck 200 feet, cutting to the net, getting two Grade-A chances. I think that says something about who he is.”

Of course, Lalonde will eventually want Berggren to not have any ill-advised passes to make up for, but he’s right: Detroit does not have many other forwards who can set up plays the way he can — and certainly not in the bottom six. That line being able to produce is huge for the Red Wings right now, and it’s showing up big time on the road.

6. Dominik Kubalik has already gotten plenty of attention for his eye-popping early production, but one thing that really caught my eye: with his 15th assist of the season Monday, he’s already just six assists shy of his career high in that category (21). That total came in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, and over an 82-game season his pace that year would have been 31 — but still, Kubalik’s halfway to that already. He’s on pace for nearly 50.

When I asked Lalonde if he was surprised at all by Kubalik’s playmaking, he said no, and that Kubalik has already been a known offensive player in the league, so maybe I was just off in my mental shortcut of Kubalik as a pure sniper. But seeing the way he’s consistently found the back door on the power play, and then the soccer-style through pass that set up Rasmussen’s goal against the Lightning, it stood out to me as a perhaps underrated aspect of his overall skillset. He remains at a point-per-game through 25 games.

Like everything with this Red Wings’ team, time will tell how long that keeps up.

But coming off perhaps their biggest win of the year, that slow-down hasn’t started yet.

(Photo of Ville Husso and Ben Chiarot: Kim Klement / USA Today)


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