Detroit — Dylan Larkin paced the Red Wings Thursday night.
His brilliant burst of speed on the penalty kill, with Luke Glendening pretty much matching him, led to a big shorthanded goal and game winner in a 4-2 victory over the Coyotes in Glendale, Arizona — where the sun was reportedly hot, the weather warm and the ice as you would expect.
Larkin learned much last season. He seemed to open the throttle on his career at the World Championship, making play after play and distributing the puck.
And when he moves around the dressing room, that 21 year-old body evidences a summer’s worth of hard labor.
Larkin’s commitment is just one thing going right for the Wings as they open 3-1 heading into Las Vegas Friday night.
From the guys in the front office to the third defensive pairing, they talked about getting off to a good start.
So far, so good.
It could persuade a lineup a bit light on confidence that they can win.
And the start is critical for another clear reason.
Life on the road
With all of the enforced parity in the NHL, much is determined early. The Red Wings still focus on the playoffs, despite a lineup under reconstruction.
The schedule does not help. Of the Wings’ first 17 games, 12 are on the road.
By the time they hit Thanksgiving Day, by which they were discernably distant shots for the playoffs last season, they will have played five in a row in Little Caesars Arena to even things quite a bit, at 10 at home and 12 away.
But after last season, even playing well at home is an advantage the Red Wings need to re-establish.
They need confidence.
It is early, way early. But some stuff is going pretty well.
Jimmy Howard’s transformation, since the Wings designated Petr Mrazek their starting goalie at the beginning of last season, continues.
He won back the job, and now Howard not only has started the season on time, he is proving again just how valuable a hot goalie can be.
The Wings were able to get the all-important first goals against the Wild and the Senators after Howard stopped more shots and thwarted more scoring chances than the other goalies.
The Red Wings won both games.
Then on Thursday, amid a rash of ill-disciplined penalties, including an unseemly trio of delays of game, they fell behind 1-0 to the Coyotes. But Howard bailed them out again.
His final piece of brilliance on this occasion occurred with the score 2-2 an on the penalty kill, just before Larkin hit the gas pedal and Glendening thought, “Hey, pal, me, too!”
Mike Green seems to have decided that doubling his goal total last season while his assists remained about the same just will not cut it this year.
Green’s eight assists, on the Wings’ 11 goals through four games, leads the NHL, along with Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Capitals.
Martin Frk is a revelation. Skating well enough to stay in the lineup, Frk leads the team in goals through four games after the Wings waived him last season.
After each booming goal, he seems to wind up on one knee. It is all in the follow through, of course.
But Frk seems to genuflect at the triumph.
Zetterberg takes over
As some things go well, however, there is still evidence of the potential for an up-and-down season.
The Red Wings remain a team challenged in their own zone.
Defending, regaining control of the puck, maintaining possession and launching the attack, things the Wings and their fans took for granted for a generation, do not come easy now.
There are signs of it, especially when the Stars and Coyotes forechecked consistently.
The Stars did it more, and won.
But luckily for the Red Wings, something else is going well, just like it did last season: Henrik Zetterberg.
With the chips down and the possibility of heading into the second intermission down by a goal staring them in the face, Zetterberg insisted on using every second of the period.
Time ran short. Zetterberg pressed.
Larkin jumped off the bench, and he flew. He worked a give-and-go with his captain, and Zetterberg finished with a little change of pace shot, hampered by a defenseman’s stick, that slipped between the goalie’s legs to tie the game at two with 51 seconds left in the period.
The captain scored, with an assist from a possible future Red Wings captain, at 19:18 of the period.
Some things really are going well.
“Well, it was big, because we kind of gifted goal back on a neutral-zone turnover,” Jeff Blashill said of Zetterberg’s big boost.
“We’ve got to do a better job managing the puck,” Blashill said. “That’s one thing over the last two nights that we haven’t done a good enough job with.
“We don’t spend enough O-zone time, when you turn pucks over like that.”
Oh, sure, some things still are not going all that well.
But some stuff is.
And, heading for Vegas, the Red Wings have opened 3-1.