Debrincat DET celebration after hat trick

DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings did something novel during their 6-2 win against the Calgary Flames at Little Caesars Arena on Sunday: They kept updating the NHL scoring race on the big screen.

The last time was in the third period. No. 1 was forward Alex DeBrincat with 12 points (eight goals, four assists). No. 2 was linemate Dylan Larkin with 11 points (three goals, eight assists).

DeBrincat had three goals and an assist against Calgary. Larkin had a goal and an assist.

“It’s exciting, and I know the fans are excited,” said Larkin, the Red Wings captain. “We’re excited as well, but we’re also … We’re knowing we need to build off tonight, which, I thought, was our best performance.”

Everyone should be excited in Detroit, while keeping it all in perspective.

The Red Wings haven’t had a 40-goal scorer since forward Marian Hossa in 2008-09. They ranked 24th in the NHL with 237 goals in 2022-23 and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.

Now here comes DeBrincat, who scored 41 goals with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2018-19 and 2021-22. The Red Wings acquired him from the Ottawa Senators and signed him to a four-year, $31.5 million contract ($7.875 million average annual value) on July 9. DeBrincat's eight goals lead the League and the most by a player in his first six games with the Red Wings.

CGY@DET: DeBrincat scores three goals against Flames

The Red Wings have won five straight. At 5-1-0, they’re off to their best six-game start since they were 5-1-0 in 2011-12, when they still had the core of defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

They lead the NHL with 30 goals. That’s one short of the Detroit record for goals in the first six games of a season, set in 1972-73. Since 1993-94, one other team has scored 30 goals through the first six games of a season: the 2013-14 San Jose Sharks.

Detroit is first in 5-on-5 goals with 20 and second in power play percentage at 39.1.

Is this sustainable? No.

“Of course, that’s not sustainable for anyone,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “But you ride these streaks when you have them, keep playing the right way and try to keep them as long as you can. We just happen to be having it on the front end of the season.”

Remember, the Red Wings started 6-2-0 in 2016-17, and they won five straight as recently as Feb. 9-16. Neither streak amounted to much.

Some numbers suggest poor puck possession and good puck luck. They’re 27th in 5-on-5 shot attempts percentage at 45.1 this season, and they lead the NHL in 5-on-5 shooting percentage at 14.1. Their combined 5-on-5 shooting and save percentage is 105.8, third in the League. DeBrincat’s shooting percentage is 35.7.

That said, Detroit added depth and experience in the offseason with DeBrincat, J.T. Compher, Klim Kostin and Daniel Sprong up front; Shayne Gostisbehere, Justin Holl and Jeff Petry on defense; and James Reimer in goal. It’s paying off.

That could be sustainable to some degree.

The Red Wings already have 14 players with a goal and 19 with a point. Larkin sees improvement at the other end of the ice too.

“We’ve got seven defensemen that can play the game and two goalies that have been really big for us so far,” he said. “We don’t really give up many Grade A chances unless it’s really our puck play or lapses from [the forwards]. We have great experience back there and guys that can clear out the front of the net.”

The Red Wings could have fallen into a trap Sunday. They were coming off a 5-2 win at Ottawa on Saturday -- an emotional win for them, considering they had been outscored 12-3 in back-to-back losses at Ottawa on Feb. 27-28 -- while the Flames were already in Detroit waiting for them.

“I just challenged the guys not to come out flat, and they certainly did a really good job of that,” Lalonde said.
DeBrincat gave them a 1-0 lead 1:59 into the game. Center Joe Veleno made it 2-0 at 9:44 of the first period. Larkin made it 3-0 at 2:00 of the second.

“We have four lines,” Larkin said. “We don’t really have anyone trying to figure out their game. We’ve got NHL players in our lineup, and when things get tough … You know, the first period tonight, we didn’t really have our legs, but we kept ourselves in the game for us to find our legs. We just have a lot of experience. We all work together, work for each other.”

The Red Wings host the Seattle Kraken on Tuesday (8:15 p.m. ET; ROOT-NW, BSDET), looking for their first six-game winning streak since March 23-April 6, 2019. 

The Kraken took a similar approach last season, their second as an expansion team. Not only did they surprise many people by making the playoffs, but they went to Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round before losing to the Dallas Stars. They had a 40-goal scorer in forward Jared McCann, but their strength was their depth. They did it as a team.

Can Detroit do something like that? Seventy-six games to go.