In comparing the Detroit Red Wings lineup at the start of last season to the start of this season, coach Mike Babcock sees one glaring change that he thinks should become a big-time strength for the Red Wings this season.
Speed. Lots and lots of speed.
"We're just a way faster team than we were," Babcock said in a phone interview after practice Tuesday. "For example, when we're out penalty killing the guys who penalty killed last year were first-year players; this year they're second-year players. They're quicker, more sure of themselves."
Seven of the 12 forwards Detroit has used through two games were not in the lineup for the season-opener last season. They're all young and fast players -- Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan, Luke Glendening, Darren Helm and Andrej Nestrasil.
Of the seven who have been replaced, only Pavel Datsyuk, Stephen Weiss and Daniel Cleary still are with the team. Datsyuk is injured; Weiss and Cleary have been healthy scratches. Cory Emmerton (KHL), Todd Bertuzzi (free agent), Mikael Samuelsson (Swedish Hockey League) and Daniel Alfredsson (free agent) are the other four.
The Red Wings are 1-1, but in games against the Boston Bruins and Anaheim Ducks they dominated time of possession. Detroit is plus-25 in shot attempts (97-72) and plus-10 in shots on goal (53-43).
Detroit plays the Bruins in the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry game at Joe Louis Arena (8 p.m. ET).
"The way we practiced [Monday], we haven't been able to practice like that since '09. No chance. No chance," Babcock said. "Does that guarantee success? No, but I think it sets us up to be better than we have been tenacity-wise."
Babcock said a key is he doesn't believe there is much of a drop off between Detroit's second and fourth lines.
"The other night when we started the game [Henrik] Zetterberg was our first line and Sheahan was in the two-hole and he was going to play against [Ryan] Kesler," Babcock said. "When that didn't work we played Helm against him. When that didn't work we played Glendenning against him. There's not much difference. Some people might hear that and say, 'Well, that's because they don't have any second line.' I'm not sure of that. I just think we don't fall off very much."
Babcock saw the change in speed in the second half of last season, when Jurco, Tatar, Sheahan and Glendenning became regulars in the lineup.
"We got quicker right to the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs," he said. "Boston slowed us down to a halt in the playoffs. With a year under our belts I think we can be a quicker team."
Quickness to Babcock isn't limited to skating; it includes reading and reacting to plays. He wants the Red Wings to be automatic in what they do instead of thinking, which inevitably slows a player down.
That's another area where experience will help.
"If you're going to be fast you've got to think real fast and you've got to be detailed, but I don't want us to think, I want us to play," he said. "I want us to think during the week in practice so when it's time to get the puck dropped we're just automatic so it's quicker."