The Detroit Red Wings suffered one of the bigger losses of the summer when center Pavel Datsyuk decided to ostensibly retire to and return home to Russia. He wanted to spend more time with his family and play in the Kontinental Hockey League, and the Red Wings allowed him to do so.
How much the Red Wings feel the absence of the future Hall of Famer remains to be seen. The team dropped their first two games of the season before breaking through for their first win Monday, a 5-2 thumping of the Ottawa Senators at Joe Louis Arena.
General manager Ken Holland signed free-agent center Frans Nielsen to fill Datsyuk's roster spot, but the group effort the Red Wings showed against the Senators will be the formula for success in the post-Datsyuk era, which continues against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.
Defenseman Mike Green had a hat trick, the team scored two power-play goals and nine players had points, including new acquisition Thomas Vanek, who had three assists. Unlike their season-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, when they squandered a lead, the Red Wings pulled away after grabbing a 3-0 advantage in the first period.
“Right now as a team, we've got to learn how to get more comfortable and play better with the lead,” Vanek said to the Detroit Free Press. “We saw it in Tampa, too — we were great, had lots of energy, got the lead, and then sat back. We did the same until (Green made it 4-1), and then we got better again.”
The Rangers have won two of three games to start the season and had to stave off a third-period push in both victories.
A 2-0 lead against the New York Islanders on Thursday became a 2-2 game in the third period before the Rangers pulled away. On Monday, the San Jose Sharks cut a 5-2 lead to 5-4 late in the third period before the Rangers scored a pair of empty-net goals to secure the victory.
“I think we played pretty smart,” Rangers goaltender Antti Raanta said. “There are some things we can do better but we know what we can do protecting the lead. Of course when you have a three-goal lead and there are only four or five minutes left, sometimes it's mental things. You give them a little bit and suddenly it's back to 5-4. It's good to practice those things when it's a one-goal game like that.”
It may be tough for the Rangers to play better defensively, as they could again be without Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi. Klein's status should be decided by Rangers coach Alain Vigneault on Wednesday morning.
“We know teams are going to surge when they are down,” Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said, “and I think in certain areas we're still trying to work on and make sure that we don't get hurt like that as we continue here.”
The past six meetings between the Rangers and Red Wings have been decided by one goal, with four going to overtime.
“There aren't any teams in this league that aren't quality,” Rangers left winger Chris Kreider “There's an unbelievable amount of parity. So it's going to be another test for us. We'll enjoy (beating San Jose) for about five minutes and then get ready for Detroit.”