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Notes: Wings welcome high-octane Leafs to town

Draper offers Ehn advice on face-offs; Larkin steps into leadership role

by Dana Wakiji and Arthur J. Regner @Dwakiji and @ArthurJRegner /

DETROIT -- The Red Wings know the odds are against them tonight as they host the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In four games, the Maple Leafs (3-1-0) have scored 20 goals, which leads the NHL. The Washington Capitals are close behind with 18 goals but they have played just three games.

In their last two games, the Leafs have beaten the Chicago Blackhawks, 7-6, and the Dallas Stars, 7-4.

Meanwhile, the Wings (0-1-2) have scored just six goals in their first three games of the season.

"They've got a dynamic offensive group," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "We've got to do everything we can to make them defend. I think if we can do that, then we're in a good spot. If we have to defend them all night, it's a tough night."

Facing such a high-powered offensive team would be a challenge any night, but Detroit is currently without a lot of players on the blue line.

Among those are Trevor Daley (upper body), Jonathan Ericsson (upper body), Mike Green (virus) and rookie Dennis Cholowski (upper body).

Niklas Kronwall returns to the lineup after missing the first three games of the season with a lower-body issue.

"I think he's skating great," Blashill said about Kronwall. "I think he looks awesome. He's done a good job in the last year of really, I think, getting his skating back in a good spot. I think he's looked good through most of the year. Had a setback there, but I thought yesterday he looked good. At the end of the day, he's really smart, real good poise with the puck and still an excellent passer. I think he was a No. 1 defenseman in this league for a good amount of time, probably overshadowed for most of his career, probably, in my opinion, didn't get the credit he deserved at all. I think he's still a real good player when he's out there because of the fact that he's real smart, moves the puck well and helps everybody around him be a better player."

The pressure will fall on Kronwall, Danny DeKeyser and Nick Jensen to help out young defensemen Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek and Libor Sulak.

"It's going to be a fun night," Hicketts said. "Hopefully they used up all their goals in the first couple of games here. They're definitely a high-octane team, a team that thrives on the power play. We saw it in the preseason. They got a lot of weapons that can put the puck in the net. It's about managing the puck, staying out of the box is going to be a big key and then limiting their Grade-A chances. If we can do that, I think we can set ourselves up for some success."

But the Red Wings know they can't rely solely on the defensemen to limit the Maple Leafs, they need everyone on board.

"They've got a lot of offensive talent. It's no surprise," goaltender Jimmy Howard said. "I think we got to stay out of the box and play as a five-man unit. Make it tough on them, make them play in their own end. We're going to have to control the puck in the offensive zone. They'd obviously have a lot more fun playing in our end."

In 14 career games against Toronto, Howard is 6-4-2 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .904 save percentage, plus one shutout.

Howard is absolutely correct when he said the Red Wings have to avoid taking unnecessary penalties as the Maple Leafs are tied for first in the league, connecting on 50 percent of their man-advantage opportunities.

"We know they have a good power play," rookie Christoffer Ehn said. "If we take penalties, we've got to be sharp. We've had a good couple of games here with the penalty killing. We just got to keep chipping in and just do our best to try and shut them down. But of course we don't want to take too many penalties."

The Wings are currently 15th in the league on the penalty kill at 80 percent.

Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly has assisted on all five of Toronto's power-play goals. Mitch Marner has one goal and three assists on the power play.

"Marner's a great player," Blashill said. "Obviously (John) Tavares and (Auston) Matthews are, too, but so is Marner. Marner doesn't need to take a back seat to anybody. He's an excellent player, one of the best in the league, certainly one of the very, very top power-play guys in the league at getting it in the zone and once he's in, making tons of plays. He's one of the players on their team that makes their team real dynamic."

FROM KRIS TO CHRIS: Kris Draper is currently the assistant to general manager Ken Holland but that doesn't mean he isn't up for a bit of coaching now and again.

Draper spotted something during Thursday's morning skate and came down to the bench to chat with Ehn when the skate concluded.

Tweet from @Dwakiji: #RedWings Draper giving Ehn a few pointers.

"Just giving me some pointers on face-offs, some tips and tricks of what I can do out there," Ehn said. "Just trying to help. I talked to him a bunch of times. He's played a lot of games in this league and he knows what he's talking about so it's good for me to get some input. I just keep working on it because it's way more of a battle here than it was in Sweden, the face-offs, because you're allowed to do so much more in Sweden. You're just allowed to go for the puck here, you can't kick, tie up, there's so much more you can do. I'm just trying to take away as much as I can from him. Hopefully it will work out on the ice as well."

Blashill said Ehn is going through what many young players go through when they reach the NHL.

"I think any young player in the league, it's usually an adjustment period to be a real good face-off guy," Blashill said. "I think as you've been in the league a while, you get a little more benefit of the doubt from the linesmen, I think that's just the reality of life. So when you're a young player, you probably don't get much benefit of the doubt in terms of cheating a little bit. So I just think it's learning how much of the circle you can take, how much little tricks of the trade you can take. I know Kris Draper was talking to him today even after the skate, just to help him learn some of those. I think he'll get better and better at it as he gets more experience."

Draper had a career face-off win percentage of 58.2 so Ehn picked the right person to listen to.

LARKIN ON LEADERSHIP: Since last week, Detroit's own Dylan Larkin is now officially part of the Red Wings leadership group, but because he's wearing the 'A' during home games does not mean he is about to morph into the Wings' unofficial captain.

For over a year Larkin has been consistent telling anybody who asks that he is not concerned with wearing a letter and eventually being the Red Wings captain.

Because leadership is not a letter on your sweater, it is a mindset he hopes to cultivate, especially since Detroit's roster is skewing younger.

"The way I want to play, the player I want to be, how I envision myself in five years, I don't see it with a letter on my jersey," Larkin, 22, said. "I see it as being one of the best players in the league, a key player here and as we get more players that can play, not saying that we don't, or these young guys, I keep saying young guys, but I guess they are younger, so I can say that, but as they start coming up it will nice to just be myself and be a leader for them."

Though the Wings remain winless three games into the season, Larkin is encouraged by Detroit's solid play. He believes the Red Wings have turned the corner on the power play, which has been a sore point for the last couple of seasons.

"It's just hockey, power plays, the biggest things are you've got to see a play and make a play. You can't say, 'here are the set plays we're going to do,' it's such a flowing two minutes," Larkin said. "You're going to know the way a team kills and if they're going to come aggressive, you're going to do different things to put guys in a more supportive role, you're going to have to break that coverage, but once you break it you've got to attack the net.

"In terms of knowing if you've had a productive power play, you have the puck in the zone, you're passing it around, you're getting shots, you're creating chances, you're playing hockey; so there's plenty of times when we're coming off the ice on a power play and it just builds momentum. In the end you need to score and so far, I think it's nice we've gotten off to a good start on the power play."

The power play is clicking at 33 percent (3-for-9), which is a good sign. However, last year's bugaboo of one-goal losses has lingered into this early season.   

Detroit has lost two one-goal games and their two-goal loss at Los Angeles included an empty-netter against.

Many times last year, Larkin would speak after another one-goal loss and though he answered every question, you could tell he was seething underneath.

"You know if we had the answers, it would be done, we wouldn't be talking," Larkin said. "It's something you have to work at it, you have to fully embrace it, learn and just do it. "Our power play is a great example. We've battled a couple of years on the power play, we've worked at it so much and worked at it and worked at it and you see there is success. We're getting shots through, we've been a little bit lucky, but we've got the puck there, we've got pucks to the net, net presence and we need to do that with leads.

"I know the 'D' are working with communication with the forwards and things are coming together, but we need to put it all together. We're getting there and when we put it all together it will be good for us."

Yet Larkin realizes if the one-goal loss trend continues, he will need to exhibit a tremendous wherewithal to maintain his composure to still be a source of encouragement to his teammates.

"It does feel (being) back in here we're three games in and we have two points, but we haven't got a win yet and we lost a one-goal lead, so it is a bit deflating," Larkin said. "But I think with these young guys going through it, they're exciting, they're exciting to watch, they're exciting to play with and it's exciting, what are they, three games in for most of them? They're learning, and they've gotten better every game, so as they get better, we'll get better as a team.

"Hopefully we'll get there, we'll go on a run and it will be fun with a great group of guys, but to not get frustrated you've just got to focus on what's next and you (must have) a short memory, you can't get too high. Three of the most cliché things but it's true, it's said all the time, but I think you get too low and then it gets into your normal day life and nobody wants to be around you and you find yourself kind of in a funk. Truly you have to stay even-keeled and having these younger players around helps."

Spoken like a captain-in-waiting.

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