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Notes: Zadina gaining confidence, excited to face Lightning

Tampa Bay has already clinched a playoff berth, the first team to do so

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

TAMPA -- For a 19-year-old rookie getting his first taste of life in the NHL, there's no place better to be than on the ice.

So Filip Zadina joined 10 of his teammates Saturday for an optional morning skate at Tampa's Amalie Arena.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: A little morning work to get the legs loose. #RedWings, Lightning: 7pm tonight. #LGRW

Tonight Zadina will get his first of two opportunities to play against the league's best team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are 51-13-4.

The Lightning visit Detroit next Thursday, which will be Zadina's final game of the nine he will play with the Wings.

The Lightning became the first team to clinch a playoff berth when the Anaheim Ducks beat the Montreal Canadiens Friday night.

Zadina scored his first NHL goal last Tuesday in Colorado and has shown off some of the improvement he's made down in the American Hockey League with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

"I thought he's gotten better game by game," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I thought the last three games he's looked the most dangerous. As I've said earlier, that to me is the biggest thing with him. I want him to look dangerous offensively. I think he's a pretty complete player for a young, young guy.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "I think he's a pretty complete player for a young guy. I think it's real positive steps in the right direction. Certainly good for our organization."- Blashill on Zadina ahead of #DETvsTBL.

"He stops on pucks, blocks shots, plays pretty good D. I wanted to make sure he's real confident with the puck, and as he's gone through this, he's gotten more and more confident, making plays, finding ways to create space. So I think it's real positive steps in the right direction, certainly good for our organization."

Zadina, the sixth overall pick in last summer's NHL Entry Draft, says he's feeling more confident with a little experience.

"I would say hundred percent," Zadina said. "I feel pretty good, I feel confident in my head and it's probably why I'm playing way better than I played my first game. Just feel great with the puck, confident and when I'm creating chances for my teammates, that's my hockey, that's what I want to play here."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "I feel pretty good. I feel confident in my head."- Zadina pregame. | #DETvsTBL

Although Zadina has not yet recorded an NHL assist, it doesn't mean he can't be a playmaker.

"Some wingers are pure shooters. They just wait for a centerman to get them the puck. They're just pure shooters," Blashill said. "And some wingers, and probably the best is in the other locker room in (Nikita) Kucherov, controls the play. He controls the play, Kucherov does, like a centerman. I think Filip is somewhere in between there, where he looks like a guy who not only has a real good shot but can control the puck enough and make enough plays.

"(Thomas) Vanek talks lots about how important confidence is and a lot of that comes from confidence. It's just a learning process and learning how to create space. He's not super fast and he's not super big. So he has to create space with his mind and he's gotta create space with his edges. He's real quick at cutbacks and I think he's done a real good job of learning that, learning how to create space."

Zadina is very aware of the highly accomplished Kucherov, who has been even more phenomenal this season with 31 goals and 77 assists for 108 points in 68 games after recording 100 points in 80 games last season.

"Everybody knows he's a special player, so you got to be careful of his game," Zadina said. "Obviously, I looked up to him last year, two seasons ago when he was unbelievable, as a forward, so it's a huge game for me to play against a player I look up to. So it's a good day."

In 21 games against the Wings, Kucherov has 12 goals and 10 assists.

"I like the way he's shooting, this pace, where he's flying for his shot and then obviously he is a smart player with the puck," Zadina said. "Just trying to look up to him as much as I can, trying to learn something from him."

FORMIDABLE FOE: The Wings needed a shootout to defeat the New York Rangers and snap an eight-game losing streak on Thursday.

But tonight, they truly have their work cut out for them against a Lightning team that has dominated the league this season.

The Lightning are coming off a rare loss as the Minnesota Wild shut them out, 3-0, on Thursday in Tampa.

The Lightning have only lost two games in a row twice this season, 6-4 at home Nov. 10 to the Ottawa Senators and 2-1 at Buffalo Nov. 13. They lost in a shootout, 3-2 at home to the Vegas Golden Knights Feb. 5 and in overtime, 1-0 at home to the St. Louis Blues.

Meanwhile, the Wings' lack of success against the Lightning has been well-documented.

The Wings have lost 13 straight in the regular season to the Lightning, 13 straight including the playoffs, 12 in a row in Tampa in the regular season and 12 in a row in Tampa including the playoffs.

"One, we took a good step forward (Thursday) night," Blashill said after Friday's practice. "We got to make sure we take another good step forward. They're a real good hockey team. Obviously their record is great right now. I don't think the discrepancy in teams in today's NHL is outlandish. We got to go there and play great hockey. If we do that, we put ourselves in position to win. Certainly I'm sick of not beating them. Without a doubt, we want to go there and win the hockey game. So hopefully we can go out and play good hockey."

The Lightning have the league's best power play at 29 percent and the league's best penalty kill at 85.6 percent.

"It speaks to why their record is what it is," Blashill said. "When you're great in each one of those areas, you're going to have a great record. It's a great challenge for us. I thought we came off it a little. I think we've played pretty good hockey most of the year and haven't gotten the results we've wanted but I think we came off it a bit and I thought in Colorado we took a step forward and certainly against the Rangers was as good as we've been in a while."

The Lightning have 187 power-play points with Kucherov and Steven Stamkos combining for 77 of those points.

"I heard they're a little worse at home, they're 29 percent at home and 32 percent on the road, so that's good for today and not for next week, I guess," Blashill said. "Their power play is tremendous, but our penalty kill had gotten better and better and better the last month. I think it's trending in the right direction that way. We'd like to test it as little as possible tonight. It's one of those things where if you go against a good power play and you give them multiple opportunities, it gets real hard."

The Wings are 24th on the power play at 16.6 percent and 26th on the penalty kill at 77.8 percent but are better on the road, ninth on the power play at 20.9 percent and 13th on the penalty kill at 81 percent.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Honoring 7 around the league. ������

PRAISE FOR COOPER: Blashill and Lightning coach Jon Cooper are longtime friends.

Did the two have a chance to catch up Friday night?

"Yeah, I bought," Blashill said.

Although Blashill and Cooper often joke around with each other through the media, there is no question that they also both have admiration for each other.

"I've known Cooper a long, long time," Blashill said. "We worked together long, long time ago at the old USA Hockey Festivals, when we took Team Michigan and he's a great communicator, he's a great person and he's really, really smart. Used to be people thought he just got his teams to play hard, his guys played hard for him, that was kind of the MO on Coop and maybe he wasn't real X's and O's, but that's not true. He's really smart, he's got a simple way of applying his X's and O's, but it's in a real smart way."

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