0

Red Wings Notch First Win at Little Caesars Arena

It may only be preseason, but the Detroit Red Wings put on a show for the fans attending Little Caesars Arena’s first hockey game by beating the Boston Bruins 5-1 on Saturday night.

The Red Wings also got their first win of the preseason, after losing to Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago. Obviously, the wins don’t matter at this time of year, but it does give the players confidence and opening the new arena with a good show was a welcomed sight.

Here are four observations from Saturday’s win:

1. Martin Frk’s Power-Play Time

Martin Frk was the first star of the game for the Red Wings, notching two goals and an assist, including a power-play goal.

Frk received ample playing time with the man advantage (3:18) and was able to unleash his powerful shot to give the Red Wings a 5-1 lead early in the third period. His shot is something that has been discussed in the past, but like former teammate Teemu Pulkkinen, the question is will Frk be able to get his shot off when the speed of the game picks up at the NHL level?

Luckily for Frk, he scored his power-play goal on a five-on-three man advantage, so he had more than enough time to set up, as he launched a rocket from the top of the left circle past Bruins goalie Malcolm Subban.

Frk is fighting for a spot on the team and could be a valuable addition should he be utilized properly. He scored 27 goals and 23 assists with the Grand Rapids Griffins last season — leading the team with 12 power-play goals — and added five goals (one of which was on the power play) and 10 assists in 16 Calder Cup playoff games.

As The Athletic contributor Prashanth Iyer points out, the Red Wings would be wise to utilize Frk on the power play as much as possible. Otherwise, at this point in his career, Frk is a bottom-line player.

2. Speaking of Power Plays…

There was a whole lot of them Saturday, as the league is cracking down on previously uncalled slashing penalties. The Red Wings were 2 of 6 on the power play, while the Bruins were 1 of 5; the game featured five slashing penalties. This, of course, is happening around the league. On Sept. 18, there were eight preseason games and 49 slashing penalties called.

I have mixed feelings about this emphasis. On the one hand, I want the superstar players to use their speed without being hacked and whacked as they move up the ice. On the other hand, I like seeing as much five-on-five hockey as possible. Calling too many slashing penalties slows the game down and reduces the amount of five-on-five play.

But I’m hoping it’s something the players can adjust to, which means they will be cognizant of the emphasis and forced to limit the amount of hacking and whacking they do, which will allow the superstar players to use their speed to create scoring opportunities.

The Red Wings had three power plays in the first period and were unable to cash in, but they had some nice puck movement in the second and third periods.

After ranking 27th in the league last season in power-play percentage (15.1), the Red Wings have a lot of improving to do with the man advantage, and they showed glimpses of hope against the Bruins.

3. Anthony Mantha’s Vision

Let’s be honest, the Red Wings are a long shot to make the playoffs this year. So, what I’m interested in seeing this season is how the prospects develop. Anthony Mantha, who scored 50 goals in each of his last two junior seasons, has had a lot of hype follow him around ever since the Red Wings drafted him with the 20th pick in the 2013 NHL entry draft.

An injury during the 2014 prospects tournament forced him to start his rookie season with the Griffins late, which stunted his development. He got a taste of the NHL during his second season as a professional, playing in 10 games and scoring three points (two goals, one assist).

However, it wasn’t until last season we started to see Mantha’s full potential. The 23-year-old started the 2016-17 season in Grand Rapids, scoring eight goals and adding two assists in 10 games. He was called up by the Red Wings, and spent the rest of the season in Detroit, scoring 17 goals and adding 19 assists in 60 games.

Mantha is more known for his goal-scoring ability, but on Saturday, he exhibited great vision and passing that led to two Red Wings goals.

On Frk’s first goal, I could see most players in Mantha’s position wrap the puck back around the net to Dylan Larkin, which would be the safe and easy play. However, Mantha sees Frk cutting to the slot and sends the puck his way for a point-blank scoring opportunity.

On the second play, Mantha receives a lob pass from Larkin, fights off two Bruins defenders and has the presence of mind to look up and see Frans Nielsen cutting down the other wing all alone.

While these opportunities have to be taken with a grain of salt, as the Bruins obviously aren’t playing with their regular-season lineup, it’s good to see Mantha making plays and setting up his teammates with well-timed passes.

4. Jimmy Howard’s Play

Jimmy Howard was discussed at length during the offseason, mostly in regards to which goalies the Red Wings should expose in the expansion draft. Ultimately, General Manager Ken Holland opted to expose Petr Mrazek and protect Howard and Jared Coreau.

Vegas selected Tomas Nosek from Detroit, so the Red Wings were left with two goalies making nearly $10 million between them.

Howard played in just 26 games last season due to injury, but he looked good in Saturday’s game, making 19 saves on 20 shots. He didn’t have to be fantastic for the Red Wings, but he made key saves for the team down the stretch in order to preserve the four-goal lead.

It was a nice bounce-back game for Howard, who started the game Wednesday against Pittsburgh and gave up three goals on 25 shots before being pulled in the second period.

Mrazek faced an onslaught Thursday against Chicago, facing 40 shots and making 34 saves. He also made 19 saves on 21 shots against Boston on Tuesday in the 4-2 loss.

Based on the stats alone, Howard appears to have the slight lead, but it will be interesting to see if either goalie can grab the No. 1 spot during the final four games of the preseason. Of course, with all of the drama surrounding Mrazek this offseason, Holland may attempt to trade Mrazek and give Coreau the backup spot behind Howard.