IN THE D: Top Line Gets Red Wings Off to Hot Start

By: Ken Cross | October 16, 2015

There’s nothing like a 3-0 start to the Red Wings season to stir up some excitement in the city of Detroit.

After a disappointing year for the Tigers and what is likely going to be an equally frustrating Lions season, an undefeated Wings team is just what the doctor ordered.

Yes, it has only been one week since Detroit defeated Toronto in the season opener. But that doesn’t mean Wings fans shouldn’t enjoy the team’s best start since the 2011-12 season, which is due in large part to its top line.

A veteran captain, a rookie and a forward in the prime of his career – it may seem like an unlikely trio, but Henrik Zetterberg, Dylan Larkin and Justin Abdelkader have already become an exceptional combination.

“They seem to have some pretty good chemistry, it’s a pretty good mix of speed and size and skill and offensive smarts,” said coach Jeff Blashill.

Zetterberg, the obvious leader of the team, leads the entire league with seven points. After years of battling back issues, Zetterberg entered the season healthy and with something to prove, according to his linemate.

“I think he had a great summer as far as training, came into camp ready to go, kind of with a chip on his shoulder,” Abdelkader said. “I think maybe the coaching change brought a breath of fresh air for him.”

The addition of a teenager probably didn’t hurt, either. Larkin not only made Detroit’s roster, but he also cracked the starting lineup in his NHL debut. The 19-year-old is extremely skilled and already has one goal and three assists. He also has a plus-six rating, which is tied for first in the league.

“He’s playing well and the nice thing with him is working hard,” Zetterberg said. “He always works hard in practice and in the game doing things right.”

Another player who is doing things right is Abdelkader. The Muskegon native had a hat trick in the season opener and has made his presence known by screening goaltenders and laying hits on opponents.

Blashill said Abdelkader learned a lot from former Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom, who made a career out of screening goalies, and it’s playing dividends for Abdelkader this season.

“He’s a real important player for us and the physicality is something we need,” Blashill said. “He brings that. He’s really learned how to be a great net-front guy.”

Abdelkader had a career-high 23 goals last season, and appears to be picking up right where he left off alongside Zetterberg and Larkin. The trio has already combined for 16 of the team’s 30 points, contributing in each of the Wings’ first three games.

There’s no denying that the Wings are off to a strong start, thanks in large part to the play of their top line. But Zetterberg knows that a lot can change over the next six months, and the Wings have goals that extend far beyond the first week of the season.

“It’s still early, we have the whole season left here,” Zetterberg said. “Obviously we’re on a good start but it’s a long way off.”