All season coach Mike Babcock and his staff have had a riddle to solve: How do the Red Wings have to play to be successful?

These last two games on the West Coast — a 2-1 loss in Los Angeles and a 2-1 shootout win in San Jose — showed that maybe Babcock is closer to determining the answer.

And it all starts with a defensive unit that looked stable, confident, and had Babcock gushing after each late night after many fans had gone to sleep.

"This is the best our team has looked all year," Babcock said after the San Jose victory, a game in which the Red Wings looked like the fresher and better team most of the night despite playing in Los Angeles the night before.

"Not just necessarily the way we've played, but the way we've looked.

"We're trying to figure out a way to play, we've said all year long, a competition level that is suitable for the National Hockey League with this crew."

A big help on defense the last two games was the addition of Brendan Smith (who hadn't played since Feb. 2 because of a shoulder injury) and Kyle Quincey, who missed two games with a sprained ankle but also was playing with new partners once Smith was hurt.

"The defense is night-and-day different," Babcock said. "You put Smith in and Quincey, we got a good pair there. Then (Brian) Lashoff and (Jakub) Kindl, both skate and are big and can move and shoot the puck."

The top pair of Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson plays big minutes, and Kronwall leads NHL defensemen with 17 points.

"We're playing better and faster overall, getting back to the pucks quicker," Kronwall said. "If you have a good first pass, you don't spend a lot of time in your own zone and wasting energy that way."

From The Detroit News: