Red Wings thoughts from Stockholm: How a massive trip came up (largely) empty

STOCKHOLM — Lucas Raymond tried to play the diplomat.

It was still just moments after the Red Wings’ 3-2 loss to the Maple Leafs Friday, one that saw them blow a 2-0 third period lead, when he stood at his locker in front of yet another large crowd. He answered some questions in his native Swedish, and then pivoted to English. A reporter wanted to know about the experience in Stockholm, with Raymond scoring a goal in each game.

“It’s tough to really think about that right now, so close after this game,” Raymond said. “I mean obviously it’s been a special experience being in my home country, (in front of) family and friends. But I mean, at the end of the day, we came here to win two games. We (won) none of them.”

It was that kind of trip for the Red Wings, who flew more than eight hours across the globe only to bring a single standings point back home to Detroit.

How did it all go wrong?

1. Friday’s game against Toronto couldn’t have been more different from Detroit’s overtime loss to the Senators a night earlier. The Red Wings once again controlled play early, but this time around, they held that level for nearly the entire first 40 minutes.

With goaltender Alex Lyon making his first start (at any level) of the season, the Red Wings were always going to need to do their part to help him ease in, and they held up their end: They limited Toronto’s star-driven lineup to just five shots on goal in the first period, and 14 through two. It was exactly the kind of play-dictating effort they needed, and they had the score line to show for it: leading 2-0, on a Daniel Sprong penalty shot and a Raymond snipe from the left circle.

Of course, the Leafs were never going to go quietly, and bit by bit they chipped away. First a Tyler Bertuzzi goal in the crease. Then William Nylander on the power play. And finally John Tavares with a back-door finish on a backhand beauty from Bertuzzi.

“I think we played really good (the) first two periods, and then in the third I feel like we (came) out and played a bit scared, on our heels,” Raymond said. “And that’s when their offense started to take over. And I mean, they’re one of the most skilled teams in the league, so start(ed) to give them space and stopped playing our game that we were successful (with) in the first two. It’s tough to analyze it right after, but that’s the feeling.”

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Alex Lyon made his first start of the season on Friday in Stockholm. (Per Haljestam / USA Today)

“I don’t know if it was so much scared,” head coach Derek Lalonde said. “It wasn’t a lot of — just a couple puck plays in there that you’d want back. I didn’t mind the start of our period, we actually had some zone time, it kind of looked like the first two periods. … I felt like we gave them that first one, we’d love to learn from that a little better and just kind of melt the clock down a little bit better.”

2. If there was any rhyme between the two games for the Red Wings, it came in the form of yet another untimely penalty proving costly. Moritz Seider was called for a trip with just over seven minutes remaining, his third penalty of the night (though two were on the same play), and Toronto wasted no time on making Detroit pay. Nylander tied the game just 17 seconds later, and with the push the Leafs had gotten to that point in the period, the game was theirs to lose from then on, even at 2-2. They took the lead less than 90 seconds later.

Penalties have been an issue for Detroit all season, not so much by sheer volume (although at the 12th-most penalty minutes per game, it’s not ideal) but mainly by the times they’ve come up. For the Red Wings to go to the penalty kill protecting a late lead in that situation, with a key defenseman in Jake Walman already injured earlier in the game, was a brutal spot to be in.

“I think Newsy said something like that in one of our meetings, when you get those penalties, it seems like those 50-50 calls, they end up costing you even more,” David Perron said. “I think across the league you’re trying to minimize penalties, it keeps the bench going, it keeps the flow of the game, and definitely it’s a big part for sure.”

3. And of course, the fact Lyon was already in a tough situation after not playing for more than a month magnified that situation even more. He performed admirably, stopping 26 of 29 shots including some big ones from Toronto’s big guns in the third period. He stopped Mitch Marner on a glove save midway through the final frame, and Auston Matthews with a pad-glove combo a few minutes later.

But with how many looks the Maple Leafs generated late, it was going to be a tough job by then no matter how much rhythm he was able to find.

“I felt pretty good, felt pretty comfortable,” Lyon said. “Obviously it’s a learning experience after not playing for so long, so just tried to be patient with it, kind of feel it out as I go. But yeah, obviously not good enough for the win tonight and that’s disappointing, but it is what it is, and I’ve got to find a way at the end there to make the extra save, and those tiny margins are what the NHL comes down to.”

Many have wondered through the first month of the season why the Red Wings haven’t found a spot to work Lyon in sooner, and while the answer is ultimately fairly understandable (James Reimer has given them six starts of .917 hockey as the back up), it was going to be fascinating to see how Lyon responded to the layoff.

He acquitted himself well, but making him go so long between starts isn’t a habit Detroit can realistically bank on going forward. We’ll see how they proceed from here.

4. Conspicuous on the entire trip was an 0-for-7 showing from the Red Wings’ power play, which after a red-hot start has now cooled all the way down to a 20 percent success rate, 17th in the NHL and now below their 2022-23 mark of 21.1. It’s a stat that will fluctuate throughout the year of course, but coming out of two one-goal losses, it’s hard not to look at an 0-for from the man advantage as a core culprit.

“There’s a lot to it,” Lalonde said. “We did at least have some looks … It just doesn’t look like a very confident group right now.”

Lalonde also said the power play had “gone stale on us” and noted the potential reset with some time before the Red Wings’ next game on Wednesday, but the bottom line was clear: “We need that back.”

Lalonde was once again relatively happy with the team’s five-on-five play, which over time does matter significantly, but there’s little doubt the Red Wings need their power play clicking at least semi-regularly to succeed. It’ll be interesting to see if the Red Wings try out some new looks with multiple potential practice days before Wednesday’s game.

5. The two lost games weren’t the only concern heading out of Stockholm, as Jake Walman left Friday’s game early after crashing into the net in the second period. There was no update after the game, but his importance to the team can’t be overstated, as one of their best transition defenders and a 21-minute per night player on the top pairing.

The Red Wings can’t really afford for him to miss any time, so his status is a major one to watch upon Detroit’s return home.

(Photo of Toronto’s Tyler Bertuzzi and Detroit’s Jake Walman Moritz Seider: Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP via Getty Images)

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