Whether bigger is better can always be a topic for debate. Here’s a fact of life that can’t be up for debating. It’s the reality of the Detroit Red Wings needing to be better when facing bigger opponents.
The Nashville Predators were the latest proponents of hard, heavy hockey to school the Red Wings, taking Detroit to the woodshed for a 5-2 beating Tuesday at Little Caesars Arena.
Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin didn’t pull any punches in assessment of his team’s performance.
“I think every time we got in their zone we were getting mauled,” Larkin said. “They beat the crap out of us down low, their D, and made it hard to get to the net and get shots and get in the slot.”
It isn’t news that the Red Wings aren’t a big team along the forward line. Gritty, grinding hockey isn’t going to be their signature style.
“I thought [Michael] Rasmussen’s line [with Adam Erne and Vladislav Namestnikov] had some success because they can grind a little bit but other than that we need to be quicker with the puck, we need to be quicker to get the shot off so we can play against bigger, physical teams,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill assessed.
The Red Wings weren’t the former and didn’t do the latter against Nashville, with predictable results.
It’s not an unfamiliar outcome for the Red Wings over the past few seasons. Big teams that play a heavy style and clog up the ice frequently have proven to be the creators of problems for Detroit’s undersized forward group.
Red Wings Must Feel The Need For Speed
Just five Detroit fowards tip the scales above 200 pounds. They are Rasmussen (210), Ernie (211), Carter Rowney (208), Givani Smith (215) and Joe Veleno (206). Rasmussen (6-6), Smith (6-2) and Rowney (6-2) are the only forwards 6-foot-2 or taller.
The Wings are suiting up four forwards under six feet tall. There’s also four Detroit forwards weighing in at 183 pounds or lighter.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a pathway to success for the Wings in such a scenario. They must simplify their game. Utilizing the assets available, such as their team speed, is one way to overcome opposition brawn.
“We have to take care of the puck and kind of just throw it at the net sometimes,” suggested center Pius Suter, the lightest of the Red Wings at 174 pounds. “You can find your ways to get the rebounds and kind of beat them off that and play quick.
“Up and down quick, so if they’re big and heavy, you can kind of get some speed and beat them with that.”
Quickness is the key to success in all elements of Detroit’s game against bigger, stronger opponents. Getting into a game which call for matching feats of strength with the other guys is a recipe for disaster.
“The learning lesson in that sense is again quick puck movement, quick plays with the puck and shooting off the pass,” Blashill said. “Not overhandling it, being ready to shoot pucks right away.
“If not, you get into a grind game against them and they’re bigger than us.”
And for the Wings, that’s going to be losing battle. Every. Single. Time.
Tuesday’s one-sided debacle only served to reinfoce that reality.