Montreal came back twice on the Wings to knot the score, but Detroit kept its composure, stuck to its game plan and earned a hard-fought victory.
"Our guys understand, for us to be a good hockey team, we have to be workers, we have to be committed to doing it right, we have to be really good defensively, have great attention to detail," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said after Friday's practice at the BELFOR Training Center. "I think we've worked and competed and sacrificed. The sacrifice is showing in the blocked shots, the work to compete in the puck battles and the relentless pursuit of the puck.
"Tomorrow night against Toronto, we better be a hard forechecking team that's making them defend, otherwise it's a hard night. I think our team understands what we need to be to be successful. I think we have a full grasp of that. That doesn't mean we're going to do it every night, but we got to do it as close to every night as humanly possible."
For years, Blashill has been drilling into the players' heads they must be a difficult team to play against. They need to be relentless in every aspect of the game in order to be among the elite teams in the NHL.
It finally appears his preaching is paying off, especially with the way the Wings played in Montreal.
"We haven't gone away, there's no quit. It's been a relentless attitude, next puck, next play, we're getting back out there no matter what happens; it's fun hockey, it's fun to play that way and it's because of the guys we have in this room and the attitude," Dylan Larkin said. "The way things have gone the past couple of years, we want to make sure it doesn't happen this year. If you look at the wins we've had so far, it's a small sample size, but we played some good teams. We've been able to shut them down in the third period.
"In the past couple of years, it hasn't been easy for us to do that. Last year, when we'd get a one-goal lead or even a two-goal lead going into the third, we're gripping the stick a little tight, but now we've showed ourselves and we've built confidence on locking them down and playing our system and playing tight in front of our goalie and making sure they don't get any easy chances."
Darren Helm, one of the energy Red Wings who thinks defense first as opposed to offense, scored Detroit's first goal against Montreal, and though he understands his role, he sees a Red Wings team in which each player is taking responsibility to do whatever is needed to win.
"There's definitely that excitement when guys do something good on the ice. Guys are sticking together," Helm said. "Guys are excited for a blocked shot, a good backcheck, stuff like that we're getting real excited for. That builds chemistry and brings the team together.
"Obviously the season's a long, long year. I feel like the last three years, it's always been, 'You guys worked hard. You're in the game.' At the end of the day, we didn't make that pay off. So far in this early part of the season, it's only four games in but we've had the payoff so far.
"That builds some confidence and some momentum. Hopefully we can continue to play those three-period games, those 60-minute games and find ways to win. Obviously in the one game, I thought we only played two periods (Anaheim), and we didn't win. It's a good lesson for us. Keep building off those big Montreal games."
While the Wings are encouraged with every player being on the same page, Blashill is cautious not to get carried away by the Montreal victory being a defining moment for this team.
"I don't believe in one-game deals at all. I believe in taking 10,000 steps forward and as few steps back as possible. You're going to have some steps backwards and that's how you wake up at the end of the year and you're a way better team than you were at the beginning, by those little steps, not by any big, giant leap," Blashill said. "It's just not the reality of success in probably anything. We're going to try to take tons of little steps.
"Did we take a little step forward yesterday? Yeah, we played a real complete game. We didn't give them many chances. I think we gave them four inner slot chances to our 13. We said we wanted to win that inner square battle and we won it. So that's a good step.
"We haven't done that against that team. That team has dominated our net front in the past. Last night we were better in front of their net. So that's a little step in the right direction. The thing about this league is it's relentless, you better be great every night. The other thing about this league is confidence matters a ton. Everybody is so close that when you get confident, you get on a roll, you got a chance to be a real good team, but it can go away fast. You have to keep making sure you're on top of your game so you can keep your confidence going."
Larkin agrees with his coach. You're only as good as your next game, you have to show up to play every night, especially if you're on a line with Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi, because opponents are looking to shut you down.
"You have to bring it every night, you have to. We're in a position (his line) now where we're all three together and I think our second line is looking very dangerous and Helm, and Rosie (Jacob de la Rose) and Abby (Justin Abdelkader) are playing real well and when we get four lines rolling any team is dangerous, but for us to carry the play we want to carry you have to bring it. It has to be there mentally every night.
"You do get tough matchups. You look at the first two games we had you could tell the guys in Anaheim they wanted it, they took pride in shutting us down, especially when you're hot, that's when you find they're keying on you, they know the plays you run. They key in, but you have to battle, you have to play your game every night, because if you don't it's going to go the other way and you're going to be a minus-3, fishing the puck out of your net all night."
A relentless team mindset has the Wings in a good position, but it's how they respond from their early success which will dictate how this season plays out. A key factor is if the Wings can get consistent secondary scoring, while each line continues to play a 200-foot game.
"I think we can be a hard line to play against. On the forecheck, I think we can get in there. We can all skate pretty well and put a lot of pressure on the defense in their zone," Helm said. "I think we got guys that haven't put up big numbers, but guys that can contribute and have in the past. If we stay on the same page and slowly continue to build that chemistry that we have been.
"From the first game to the last game, we've been getting better. Hopefully that continues and we can build off (Thursday) night and the night before and see if we can put a few more pucks in the net."
It may be early but the Red Wings have purpose, resolve and a relentless confidence, which focuses on what they do regardless of the opposition.
HRONEK QUESTIONABLE: Late in the third period against the Canadiens, defenseman Filip Hronek took a questionable hard hit behind the Detroit net, smashing his face against the glass.
As a result, Hronek didn't practice on Friday and is questionable for Saturday's game against Toronto at Little Caesars Arena.
"I'll have more information tomorrow. I don't know his status for tomorrow," Blashill said. "We're hoping he's available to play but I'll know more tomorrow. (He) took stitches above eye when checked into the glass late in game."
If Hronek cannot play, newly acquired defenseman Alex Biega would most likely make his Detroit debut against the Leafs.
Detroit is already without defensemen Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson; and center Frans Nielsen is also still out.
Blashill indicated Daley and Nielsen are close to returning, while Ericsson's return is still up in the air. Hronek isn't expected to miss much time if he can't go against Toronto, but he will be missed.
In Detroit's first four games, the rugged but nifty defenseman has three points, including one goal, is plus-1 and his ice time average of 22:02 is third highest on the team, trailing only Mike Green (22:29) and Danny DeKeyser (22:17).