A poor road trip (1-3) and the NHL trade deadline behind them, the Detroit Red Wings played a stress-free game Tuesday to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 6-3 at Little Caesars Arena.
The Red Wings have won seven games since Feb. 1. Three of those victories are against the Flyers. Philadelphia sits 28th in the NHL standings, four spots behind Detroit. Tyler Bertuzzi had a goal and two assists for Detroit.
“The road trip and the trade deadline both cause lots of stress,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “When you don’t sleep it’s hard in your body. Yesterday’s practice I thought there were some guys that hadn’t slept at all, they told me they had a real hard time. Then the trade deadline there’s angst involved in that, whether it’s you potentially being traded or everybody doesn’t know what’s going on. I thought we came out and played with good energy early and that was important part of the game.”
Here are five takeaways from the game:
Jakub Vrana’s scored twice in the game, giving him five goals in seven games since coming back from shoulder surgery. He has picked up where he left off last season when he netted eight goals in his first 11 games in a Red Wings jersey.
Looking ahead to next season, the early projection would be Tyler Bertuzzi, Lucas Raymond, Vrana and Robby Fabbri as the top four wingers. But maybe Jonatan Berggren or even Elmer Soderblom might challenge for one of those spots.
What is clear: Vrana makes the Red Wings far more dangerous offensively. Vrana scores at opportune times. His second goal gave Detroit a 4-2 after the Red Wings squandered a 3-0 advantage.
Raymond hit the 20-goal mark to become the fifth Detroit rookie in the past 35 years to score 20 or more goals in a season. He follows Dylan Larkin (23 in 2015-16), Henrik Zetterberg (22 in 2002-03), Sergei Fedorov (31 in 1990-91) and Shawn Burr (22 in 1986-87).
Also, Raymond is tied Toronto’s Michael Bunting for the NHL rookie lead in points (20-28-48 in 63 GP). Raymond is also the third NHL rookie to reach the 20-goal mark this season, joining Bunting and Nashville’s Tanner Jeannot.
Rookies are supposed to hit the wall at some point. Raymond did have a dry spell when the goals didn’t come as easily, but he has never had a period when he wasn’t at least making plays. He has seven goals in his past 11 games.
Sundqvist scored an empty-netter and added an assist. His 6-foot-3 frame in front of the net will help Detroit. Walman, also a big player, had three shots on goal and used his impressive skating to get the puck out of Detroit’s zone.
“Both played real well,” Blashill said. “I thought Jake used his two best assets, his skating and his shooting. He shot a lot and he was skating really good. He skated out of our zone. I think he’s a guy who can end plays early with his skating, defensively he can be a bit of a defensive weapon. Oskar played really good. He’s a hockey player. He’s strong on his stick. Very smart and he’s very good defensively, very good offensively. Winning pucks and being in the right spots.”
The Red Wings are too far back to consider themselves in playoff contention. But these final 20 games will be like an audition for some of the Detroit players as GM Steve Yzerman starts to make plans for next season.
Players who have had poor or average seasons might be able to get themselves back in the picture with improved play. A guy like Joe Veleno could earn himself an expanded role next season with a strong finish. He scored his seventh goal in this game.
Blashill said Veleno’s play has been “up and down” of late
“I thought he played at times good on the road and at times not good enough,” Blashill said. “It’s just the reality of understanding the level of intensity you have to play with every single night because there’s going to be nights when your legs aren’t there. Because I think when his legs are there he’s real good. He’s got to find a way when his legs aren’t there to be real good.”
The Red Wings season has been up and down, and mostly down lately. But Dylan Larkin’s play has been impressive most of the time. He picked up his 32nd and 33rd assists by setting up two one-timer goals. Larkin now has 61 points in 58 games.
He required the fewest games to reach 60 points in a season by a Red Wings player since Henrik Zetterberg in 2010-11 (55 GP).
“I don’t think Dylan gets enough credit for (his playmaking),” Blashill said. “He’s worked hard at it from his first year of pro until now. I think what Dylan has done a great job of this year is he’s skated. He’s been over the puck, got over it and made plays. Lately he’s done a good job of not forcing it and making a play when a play is there. He’s got that ability and obviously real good finish.”