DETROIT — In the spirit of the baseball postseason, the Red Wings pitched a complete-game shutout defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-0, relying stellar performance from a short-staffed defense.
Brendan Smith was the most experienced of what was a very young defensive corps on the back end for the Wings Monday having played in 119 regular-season NHL games. Collectively, Ryan Sproul (1), Xavier Ouellet (4), Alexey Marchenko (1) and Nick Jensen have appeared in six career NHL games. But on Monday, the four played roles in all three Red Wings’ goals.
“It really showed out there, a lot of speed, like Xavier, Sproul and Marchenko all contributed a lot today, as well as Smith, who really showed us the way a little bit,” Jensen said. “With a lot of the young D you could really tell there was a little extra on edge. They really wanted it and it showed.”
The defensive unit faced a steep challenge when Aaron Rome went to the locker room following his first shift of the game with a lower body injury, leaving the crew short-staffed. Mismatched pairings and improvising on the fly turned out to be a tremendous test for the young corps.
“It was a weird game obviously, five D was a pain in the butt there and we did a pretty good job, I think and then with all the penalties too,” Sproul said. “(It was) tough on the back end but I think we did a really good job.”
The 20-somethings stepped up to the challenge at hand and their presence was felt all over the ice. Playing in front of an impressive goaltending performance by Petr Mrazek, the defense killed off six minor penalties and one major penalty – including two separate 5-on-3 opportunities – by clearing pucks out of the front of the net and clogging up shooting lanes.
“The penalty kill was amazing obviously, I don’t even know how many there were but there were a lot of minutes that we had to kill,” Sproul said. “We did a great job offense and defense and it was hard on us but we killed it off.”
But it was the offensive zone where the unit made a difference on the scoreboard. Jensen scored the first goal of the game 8:28 into the second period on the power play, assisted by Andrej Nestrasil and Kevin Porter. Nestrasil has a team-high three points through three preseason games.
“It was more on Nestrasil, he made a great play,” Jensen said. “He’s been working that over there and he’s always getting the puck through to me. He made a great pass to me. One of our plans today was to shoot the puck and crash guys to the net, three guys to the net, I shot it.”
Sproul and Ouellet set up a second power-play goal five minutes into the third period when center Riley Sheahan hammered home a rebound opportunity, extending the lead to 2-0. Tomas Jurco added an empty-net goal with 1:24 left to clinch the win,
“I think a lot of us are actually offensive-minded defensemen,” Sproul said. “We did a good job defensively as well tonight I think and the points just come for us.”
With the victory, Detroit improved to 3-1-1 in the exhibition season, while holding opponents to just five goals in that span. The Wings’ next game is Wednesday against at JLA.