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Entering Lightning’s game against Red Wings, lots of plotlines behind the benches

Derek Lalonde and Jeff Blashill swapping jobs was awkward, but the longtime friends leaned on each other for support.
Detroit Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde spent the past four seasons behind the Lightning bench, part of two Stanley Cup championship staffs and three that went to the Cup Final.
Detroit Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde spent the past four seasons behind the Lightning bench, part of two Stanley Cup championship staffs and three that went to the Cup Final. [ PAUL SANCYA | AP ]
Published Dec. 6, 2022

TAMPA — Given that Lightning assistant Jeff Blashill was the head coach of the Red Wings for the past seven years, you’d think he’d be the best asset in the Tampa Bay locker room as it prepares for tonight’s game against Detroit.

But former Lightning assistant Derek Lalonde is now Detroit’s head coach, and through 25 games he has brought a lot of the Lightning into the Red Wings locker room.

“In this case, this would be one of the rare instances where, you know, because Derek came from here and brought lots of this stuff from here, I’d probably almost go to them and say, ‘OK, what are they doing?’” Blashill said Monday. “Certainly the individual players, I know most of them. So we’ll discuss that when we go through our pre-scout routine, but it’s a little bit different because of the fact that their head coach ... came from here.”

When Blashill took a job in Tampa to replace Lalonde, who was hired to replace Blashill, the two essentially swapped jobs. And they’ve been friends since 2002 as college coaches. Lalonde replaced Blashill at Ferris State when Blashill took the head coaching job at Miami (Ohio). Blashill’s brother, Tim, ran the facilities at Ferris, became friends with Lalonde, and Lalonde and Jeff Blashill then become friends.

Blashill admitted that swapping jobs with a friend is awkward but said the two have leaned on each other to help each other get adjusted to their new roles. Lalonde assumed his first NHL head coaching job, while Blashill took over Lalonde’s role in charge of the Lightning’s penalty kill.

Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill gives instructions during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. The Red Wings won 3-2 in a shootout. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill gives instructions during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. The Red Wings won 3-2 in a shootout. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) [ GENE J. PUSKAR | AP ]

“We’ve spoke through the last couple of months at different times, and there’s some awkwardness there that we kind of filled each other’s roles,” Blashill said. “It doesn’t happen very often, but at the end of the day, he’s a good friend, a good man, has a great family, and I hope he’d say the same thing about me

“That’s part of a long lasting relationship,” Lalonde said Tuesday morning. “It was long long before this, it will be long after. He was an absolute professional, actually helped me in the process a little bit, too, which was great.”

After being on the Lightning bench for four seasons, winning back-to-back Stanley Cups and going to the Cup Final three straight seasons, returning to Amalie Arena for Tuesday’s morning skate brought back plenty of memories.

“Those relationships, seeing guys, that’s what it’s all about,” Lalonde said. “But then you’re in the arena and you think about beating New York in the conference finals Game 7, obviously winning the Stanley Cup here, those are things that really resonate, so really cool being back.”

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Under Lalonde, the Red Wings had earned points in 12 of their last 17 games (going 9-5-3 over that stretch) entering tonight’s game at Amalie Arena.

Should see more Cirelli

Expect center Anthony Cirelli’s ice time to increase tonight in his second game back from offseason shoulder surgery. Cirelli played just 12:51 Saturday against Toronto but made a huge impact on the game as a shutdown center and picked up two assists, including on Alex Killorn’s winning goal in overtime.

“I thought he got better as that game went on,” Cooper said. “And by the end, he was huge for us. So I thought, you know, if he’s gonna continue with that tonight, I feel like he’s just (like) he’s played all year with us.”

Cooper said he liked what he saw when he put Pat Maroon on a line with Cirelli and Vladislav Namestnikov in the third period and plans to stick with that line tonight.

“We’re a different team this year,” Cooper said. “We have different players. Cirelli wasn’t going to get the 20-load minutes, so he was gonna play a little less. I thought “Patty’s” game elevated a little when he played with them and so did “Vladdy.” and they checked well and it worked out.

“So we’ll give this a little run, see how it goes.”

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