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Five Questions With...

Red Wings' Blashill excited for Stadium Series game

Detroit coach also talks Datsyuk, Zetterberg, offense

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill:

Jeff Blashill first brings up the importance of the game when he's asked about bringing the Detroit Red Wings outdoors and into the thin Denver air for the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports 2).

"Like every game the rest of the way, it's a big game for us," Blashill said.

The Red Wings are in the mix to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a 25th consecutive season, but they're not a lock. They're positioned to be the first wild card from the Eastern Conference, but they have a four-point cushion on the New Jersey Devils heading into Tuesday.

Blashill, though, had a secondary thought about the game at Coors Field; it was along the lines of, 'Hey, this is going to be pretty darn cool,' just like it was on Dec. 30, 2013, when he coached in the AHL Outdoor Classic at Comerica Park in Detroit while with Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League.

"It's a great opportunity when you get these chances to play in outdoor games because they're bigger than just any game through the year," Blashill said.

The NHL is expected to top 1 million in total attendance for outdoor games when the Red Wings and Avalanche play at Coors Field. The current total attendance for the NHL's 17 outdoor games is 970,960 after 50,426 saw the Minnesota Wild defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 6-1 at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday.

There were 35,144 at Coors Field to see the University of Denver play Colorado College on Saturday. The venue seats over 50,000.

"I've been fortunate to play in one in the American League and it was a real cool experience," Blashill said. "We're going to do a job as a team to make sure we enjoy the moment. I think that's an important part of life, enjoying the journey and enjoying the moment. We'll do that for certain, and then we'll also be focused to win the hockey game."

They need to be. After all, it is a big game for a team that carries a four-game losing streak into Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Red Wings have lost their past two games in extra time (shootout against the Ottawa Senators, overtime against the New York Rangers). They're 4-4-3 since the All-Star break. Blashill spoke to about the Red Wings' play lately and concerns he may have, along with insight into their three most important forwards: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Dylan Larkin.

Here are Five Questions with … Jeff Blashill:

One of the things that is noticeable in the past two games is the defense that your team has played is better than it had been in the previous three. Three goals allowed, two in regulation, in the past two games after 15 allowed in the prior three. Can you put your finger on what has been the difference?

"I think through the course of the season we've been pretty good defensively as a team, but I think in an effort to add a little more offense, the pendulum swung too far and I believe we got too loose defensively and paid the price for it. We understand that you can't have success in the NHL without being real good defensively. We'd like to be a little bit better offensively while we're doing it, but we know it starts with good defense for sure."

Now on the offense. The Red Wings were shut out for the first time this season Sunday at Madison Square Garden. That means six goals in the past four games. For the season, you're 20th in scoring with 2.5 goals per game. When you look toward the final 25 percent of the season here, are you worried about scoring enough?

"I think it's been a bit of a concern all season, and to be honest with you it probably goes back to last season. I know last year they had a hard time scoring 5-on-5 as well. I think they were 25th in the League in 5-on-5 scoring. Our power play has not scored at the rate that the power play scored at a year ago, so we put more pressure on our team to score 5-on-5 because of that. We came back from a trip in Florida where we played Tampa and Florida and wanted to get what we call two percent better. By that, I meant trying to maintain the good defensive posture we played through the course of most of the season but add a little bit of offense with that. We made the move to put [Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg] together. They've certainly been very, very good together. They've produced lots of offense as a line. Their power play has produced a good amount of offense. But we haven't had enough offensive contributors outside of that line. We're going to keep them together, and we need to find a little more offense from others. There is offense there. [Gustav] Nyquist, [Tomas] Tatar, [Dylan] Larkin, [Brad] Richards -- I mean, there is definitely offense there. We've got to get those guys in position to make sure they can produce just a little bit more while still maintaining good defensive posture."

Since you brought up Datsyuk and Zetterberg, it leads me to my question: As a guy in his first year as a head coach in the NHL, what is it like to have those two players in charge of your leadership group? What have they meant to you?

"They've been unreal. They make my job way easier. As a coach at any level, the only chance you have at success is you have to make sure you hold guys accountable. By accountable, I mean come to work every day, come to pay attention to detail every day. For me as a first-year coach, to have our two best players with the daily work ethic and daily attention to detail that they have makes my job that much easier. I don't have to have an ongoing battle with our best players to work hard. I don't have to have an ongoing battle with our best players to pay attention to detail because they do it. That certainly spreads throughout the team. They've continued a culture here that was established a long time ago. They've done a great job of continuing it and it's made my job much, much easier."

In regards to Datsyuk, he has played 24-plus minutes in each of the past two games and is regularly over 20, including in seven of the past eight games. Do you have any concern about his ice time?

"I'm not concerned. I'm not concerned because he's in elite, elite shape. It's something we'll continue to monitor and part of that monitoring process is speaking to him and seeing how he feels. I didn't go into [Sunday] night's game thinking he would get that much ice, but it played that way and I never thought he looked tired. As a coach sometimes you overplay guys and you know it was a mistake because you can see they look tired, but I never felt that way with Pav [Sunday] night at all. He is in elite, elite shape and when you're in that shape it doesn't matter your age, it matters more about what your body is about. His body is in a spot where I think he can handle the minutes. Pav, I think, is totally on top of his game. I was here four years ago as an assistant and he's certainly every bit as [good as] he was then. He might be playing at the highest level I've seen him. Certainly with that we want to get him out there as much as we can when he's playing at that level. The other thing with Pav is he missed the first part of the year, so I think there is some freshness because of that. He's got himself in a position where I think his legs are fresh, he feels good and he's enjoying playing hockey. He loves playing with [Zetterberg]. They really enjoy playing together. It gives them some extra energy and I think extra synergy as well."

What has your philosophy been with Dylan Larkin this season considering he's so young, so talented, has so much still to learn, but also so much to offer now?

"There's a balance between utilizing his assets and his great play and making sure that we continue to teach him and train him to be as good a player five years from now as he can be. We want a great Dylan Larkin this year, but we want an even better Dylan Larkin five years from now. That's a tricky thing. When guys are established players you can help them with their habits, but there's only so much variance that they'll have at that point. With young players, you really have an impact on their habits and whether or not they're doing everything right. With Dylan, he does so many things well and probably is able to get away with some things because he's got such great physical tools, he skates so well, he wins puck battles. We've got to make sure as a coaching staff that we're making him do it right all the time so that he can be that elite player in the League that he wants to be. He's publicly said he wants to be the best player in the world, I need to make sure I'm holding him to the standard of what the best player in the world is. So there is certainly a balance in that, but he's done a real good job. He wants to get better and he loves winning. Those are great tools to have to help yourself become a better hockey player. He's a confident kid, but I wouldn't say in an outlandish way. He's a quiet, confident kid. He believes in himself. He's pretty comfortable in his own skin. He's good that way. It's not in a fake bravado way, it's a real quiet confidence. He does a real good job of handling himself."

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