By Sean Chase
After rushing through training camp, the Detroit Red Wings dropped their season opener in the friendly confines of Little Caesars Arena, by a score of 3-0 to the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 14.
Although the first game resulted in a shutout loss, Head Coach Jeff Blashill felt that his players held their own against one of the NHL’s best teams.
“Very early in the game, I thought we were playing really well,” said Blashill, during the postgame press conference. “We came out and did a lot of things we need to do. I thought until they scored we played well.”
After three scoreless minutes in the first period, a mistake in the defensive zone by newly minted captain Dylan Larkin, allowed the Hurricanes to take a 1-0 lead, as Nino Niederreiter put the puck past the stick-hand of Red Wings Goalie Thomas Greiss.
Both team’s defensive units stepped up their pressure, keeping the score 1-0 throughout the second period, and into the third period. Until, with five minutes left in the contest, Larkin picked up a minor penalty for tripping Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
The penalty-kill unit held off the barrage of shots from Carolina for most of the power play, but in an effort to protect the net as the puck deflected behind it, Red Wings defenseman Patrik Nemeth hooked Hurricanes center, Sebastian Aho. He was sent to the penalty box, allowing the Hurricanes power play to gain a two-man advantage.
Once Larkin exited the penalty box, the Red Wings had been on the penalty-kill for three consecutive minutes. The Hurricanes offense was able to take advantage of the tired unit, when left-winger, Ryan Dzingel got the puck in front of the Red Wings net and sent it past Greiss to push the lead to 2-0.
As a last-ditch effort, Blashill pulled Greiss with two minutes remaining in the third period. However, this backfired as the Red Wings lost the puck near the Carolina blue line, which was corralled by Andrei Svechnikov. The left-winger quickly sent the puck into the unoccupied Red Wings goal, giving the Hurricanes a three-goal advantage.
While the game remained close until the third period, the Red Wings found themselves drastically behind the Hurricanes in terms of total shots on goal. Greiss faced 42 shots on goal from the Hurricanes offense and stopped 40 of those shots.
However, Hurricanes Goalie Petr Mrazek, a fifth-round pick of the Red Wings in 2010, only faced 14 shots on goal from the Red Wings offense.
For Larkin, the season opener was also the first time he donned the captain “C” for the Red Wings, an honor that he earned in just his second season on the main roster. After Steve Yzerman, former Red Wings captain and current General Manager for the team, announced the decision to make Larkin the 37th captain in team history on Jan. 13.
“He asked me if I was willing to take on the responsibility and I said absolutely,” Larkin said to the Detroit Free Press. “He felt I was ready and I feel I’m ready. It was just a great conversation. It was a great feeling when he asked. We kind of both smiled through the masks.”
Yzerman took over as the GM for the Red Wings in 2019, after spending 19 seasons wearing the captain “C” for the team, and knows what it takes for a player to uphold the honor.
“He stands out as a leader in his work ethic, his competitiveness, his inner drive to be really good, to win,” said Yzerman, to the Detroit Free Press. “And he’s a really good person. He’s a mature young man. He has a lot of the natural characteristics that make him a leader. He’s a perfect fit for us as a captain.”
The season was in jeopardy, until NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Jan. 10, that the league and NHL player union had come to an agreement on playing a 56-game season, starting on Jan. 13. They also decided to realign conferences, so teams will only play against teams from their region, rather than traveling cross country to face opponents. The league has, also, restricted the number of fans allowed to attend games in an effort to help combat the spread of COVID-19.
Because of all these changes the Red Wings will play the Carolina Hurricanes again on Saturday, Jan. 16 at Little Caesars Arena with the puck dropping at 7 p.m. Before the Columbus Blue Jackets, step onto the ice of Little Caesars Arena for back-to-back games.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:34 p.m. on Jan. 18 to correct an error in the location of the games against the Blue Jackets.