Rookie defensemen get good reviews for play in season opener
Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said rookie Filip Hronek, above, “had a great game. He did a real good job jumping in the play, of making little breakout passes, good job of being hard” to play against.
There were good plays and miscues. But, overall, the Red Wings’ four rookie defensemen – Dennis Cholowski, Libor Sulak, Filip Hronek and Joe Hicketts – played pretty well in Detroit’s season-opening 3-2 OT loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Joe Louis Arena.
“I’d say all had moments of good and moments of not great,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said after the game.
“They did good. They did really well in front of me,” Wings goalie Jimmy Howard added. “Obviously they’re young; there’s going to be times where mistakes happen. But, for the most part, I thought they did a really good job.”
Cholowski, 20; Sulak, 24, and Hronek, 20, were making their NHL debuts, while Hicketts, 22, was skating in his sixth NHL game.
Cholowski, of course, made the biggest splash with his first NHL goal. He jumped into the play to put in a one-timer from the slot to tie the game 1-1, 7:46 into the second period, converting a backhand pass out of the right corner by Dylan Larkin.
“It happened so fast,” Cholowski said. “… I saw him (Larkin) look over his shoulder and I gave him a quick look that I was wide open.”
But his turnover deep in the Columbus zone just a little over six minutes later led to the goal that gave the Blue Jackets a 2-1 led,
Blashill praised Cholowski for keeping his poise after that mistake.
In all, Cholowski was even in 19:51 of ice time with a shot on goal, two penalty minutes and two blocked shots with power-play and penalty-killing time, playing on the top defensive pairing with Danny DeKeyser.
Blashill also liked the way Hronek played.
“I thought Hronek had a great game,” the coach said. “He did a real good job jumping in the play, of making little breakout passes, good job of being hard” to play against.
Hronek logged 16:03 of ice time, playing on both the power play and penalty kill, had one shot, two penalty minutes and two blocks.
Hronek and Sulek both jumped into the play and stood up for themselves.
“I want to push our other D to keep being more active and put people on their heels,” Blashill said. “That’s what separated Hronek. I thought he was excellent about jumping in the play. I think Libor puts other teams on their heels.””
Sulak was even, had one shot, a team-leading five hits, and two giveaways in18:26, including penalty killing time.
But he got tired, Blashill said.
“He’s got to make sure that he keeps his poise, even as you start to breathe through your eyelids a little bit, which happens when you're stuck in your end,” Blashill said.
Sulak also roughed it up with Columbus’ Josh Anderson in front of the Red Wings net and drew a penalty on Anderson in the second period. Hronek was involved in a couple of scrums without taking a penalty.
“If you’re a young player in this league, you better prove you can stand up for yourself,” Blashill said. “There’s not as much intimidation in the league as there was a number of years ago, but it's like being on the playground, if you don't stand up for yourself, you're going to get picked on all the time.”
Hicketts played a total of 18:43 – 3:49 killing penalties – and had one shot, one hit, one giveaway and one block.
He screened Howard in an attempt to block the shot on Cam Atkinson’s power-play goal early in the second period.
Hronek and Hicketts were called up from AHL Grand Rapids on Wednesday because of injuries to Jonathan Ericsson (upper body) and Niklas Kronwall (unknown). Sulak made the team in place of Mike Green, who will be out at least a month because of a liver virus.
Detroit plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday night and at the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.
Ericsson has been ruled out of both games, while Kronwall will likely play in one of the contests.
Blashill said the Wings need to spend a lot more time in the offensive zone and shoot more than they did Thursday night.
Columbus outshot Detroit 39-20.
“Too much time in D-zone coverage, so I thought the ice got titled too much the wrong way,” he said. “When you’re in D-zone coverage, it’s hard to establish a forecheck because you’re getting it in and changing. We got to be able to get it out smoother than that, so as a result you're defending most of the time.
“The other thing that hurt us is we had chances to shoot pucks and create chaos, which would have created a little more O-zone. We didn’t shoot enough pucks.”