Babcock encouraged by improved Detroit defense

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Back in February, Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock spoke about the way his team had to play now that legendary defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom was retired.

“We have to be closer and tighter and more available and better defensively, and sometimes it’s not very pretty, but that’s just the way it is,” Babcock said.

The key, he said, was to be able to hit the opponent’s blue line with speed, which either produces an entry while maintaining possession or a dump-and-chase with a good chance of retrieval.

Veteran defenseman Ian White failed to move the puck the way his coach wanted and found himself in the press box as a result.

Lately, Babcock has really liked the way his blue-liners — including youngsters Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl, and Danny DeKeyser (and minus White) — have played.

“We’ve really improved drastically in that area, probably the most improved part of our team,” Babcock said. “With [goalie Jimmy Howard] playing the way he is and the D able to get the puck going, we’re spending a lot less time in our zone. That allows you to be much better up front.”

Detroit finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak. (And in the two losses that preceded those four wins, they outshot their opponents by a wide margin.)

The Wings open their 22nd straight postseason Tuesday in Anaheim against a Ducks side that’s just 8-9-2 in its last 19 games.