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DETROIT — The Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t accustomed to what befell them last season, and the Atlantic Division rivals are both off to 4-1 starts as they strive to put the bad memories in the rear-view mirror.
The Lightning, after reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2015 and the Eastern Conference final in 2016, suffered through an injury-riddled 2016-17 campaign and missed the playoffs by one point.
The Red Wings also failed to qualify for the postseason, the first time that had happened to the team since the 1989-90 season.
Tampa Bay, 2-1 winners over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, hit the road for a three-game trip after completing a 3-0 homestand. Detroit, meanwhile, returns home from a 3-1 road swing and riding a two-game winning streak after back-to-back victories at Arizona (Thursday) and Las Vegas (Friday).
“Quick starts are big factors in success,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “I think we’ve done a good job in this organization for a long time with that. Now with that said, we had a good start last year (6-2-0) and we didn’t finish good enough, so every game becomes critically important.”
Forward Nikita Kucherov has scored in all five of Tampa Bay’s games, a franchise record. He’s the first NHL player to score in each of his team’s first five games since Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks in 2012-13.
“Kucherov has so much deception to his game,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told NHL.com.
Balanced scoring has proven to be the success story for both teams. Kucherov and forward Brayden Point lead the Lightning in scoring with eight points, while Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos each have seven points. Defenseman Mike Green leads the Wings with eight points, all assists, while forwards Anthony Mantha and Henrik Zetterberg both show 3-4-7 totals. Rookie forward Martin Frk has also accounted for three goals and Gus Nyquist scored twice in the win at Las Vegas. Even fourth-line forward Luke Glendening has scored in each of the past two games.
“The most important thing is we know we can play well if we do it right,” Detroit captain Zetterberg said. “I think we have a good mix on the team. We’ve still got to get better in a few areas but obviously we will take this start.
“We’ve got a big game here at home against Tampa that’s going to be a challenge for us but we’re looking forward to it.”
While the Wings have alternated both Jimmy Howard (three games) and Petr Mrazek (two) in goal thus far — Howard’s .955 save percentage is second in the NHL — the Lightning have rode Andrei Vasileskiy for all five of their games, and he’s responded with four wins and a .911 save percentage.
“I think if you ask anyone in this room, (Vasilevskiy) has been our best player,” Lightning forward Tyler Johnson told NHL.com.
Defenseman Danny DeKeyser (lower-body injury) will miss his third straight game for Detroit.
“As far as I know, it’s day to day but he didn’t skate today so he’s certainly not in tomorrow,” Blashill said after Sunday’s practice. The Lightning reported no injuries.
Perhaps the move to Little Caesars Arena will give the Wings a fresh approach to this rivalry. Tampa Bay has won seven in a row from the Wings, including the final two meetings at Joe Louis Arena.