Detroit Red Wings take step back during road trip: ‘Now we’re fighting against ourselves’

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
 
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Red Wings return to Little Caesars Arena badly in need of a boost after a bruising road trip.

They went 0-3-1 through stops at Chicago and Dallas, looking little like the team that played solidly through the first four games at home. They’ve lost their confidence and one of their goaltenders.

Just when they seemed like they might rally from a poor start and make a game of it Thursday at Dallas, they gave momentum away, and went from being within a goal to losing, 7-3. It was a miserable ending to a miserable trip and Dylan Larkin sounded miserable about it.

“I was probably the most lousy out there as a leader,” he said. “I wasn’t hanging onto pucks and I wasn’t leading the way for the forwards up front. We need to be harder on pucks, we need to support each other and get pucks on net and find ways to score.”

When the Wings started the season 2-2, Larkin spoke of how noticeable it was that, unlike last year, this season’s squad wanted the puck. That confidence has ebbed. The Wings were under siege Thursday, shriveling before a strong Stars forecheck. The Wings had seven power plays, had 11:41 with an extra skater, and had just one power play goal, from Tyler Bertuzzi, to show for it.

“Now we’re fighting against ourselves,” Larkin said. “Not actually fighting, but we have the puck on our stick and we’re nervous to make plays. We don’t want it on our stick. We have a man advantage and we’re second-guessing everything, we’re not moving it around, we’re not hard on it to get the entries we want and to get set up.

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“I think every power play goal we’ve scored this year we’ve just kept it simple and thrown it to the net. We didn’t do that early enough, didn’t do it enough. That’s where we have to create momentum for our team.”

Instead of creating momentum, the Wings destroyed it. Two minutes after Valtteri Filppula pulled the Wings within 2-1, Vladislav Namestnikov headed to the box. The Wings killed the penalty, but within a minute gave up an even-strength goal. The momentum built when Danny DeKeyser scored with 6:56 to play in the third period dissipated when Luke Glendening went to the box and Ty Dellandrea converted on the power play.

By that time Thomas Greiss was in goal, replacing starter Jonathan Bernier in the second period after he suffered an upper-body injury. Blashill said he “doesn’t expect it to be anything long-term.” Bernier appeared to hurt a shoulder when Anthony Mantha crashed into the net after giving chase to a Stars player. Bernier played on for a few minutes, then ceded the net to Greiss.

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Mantha didn’t mean to injure Bernier, of course, but it’s been a lousy stretch for the 6-foot-5 forward. He was minus-4 in the game, and is minus-10 with four points in eight games.

“Ultimately, we just need a lot of guys to play way better,” Blashill said. “We have individuals that can play way better for sure.”

The Wings do have five players, including top-six forwards Robby Fabbri and Filip Zadina, and fellow power play players Sam Gagner and Jon Merrill, in COVID-19 protocol. That’s left Blashill patching power play units, and still searching for answers. He mixed them up in the third period, citing as his reason that it’s insanity to keep doing the same thing and hoping for a different result.

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“You get 12 minutes of power play time, you have to score and you have to score earlier than that,” Blashill said. “We changed units around, still wasn’t good enough. We give pucks away — we have good entries, we’re in great spots, and then we give pucks away. We were in the zone, we’re not executing. Way too many unforced errors.

“We’ve talked about as a staff who else can fill those roles. I don’t know who else can. You have eight forwards between the two of them. Is there somebody else that can do a better job? That’s what we have to keep looking at because those guys get out there and they’re not getting the job done. Either those guys have to pick their games up or somebody else has to do the job. Soon enough we’ll have some guys coming back, but it’s certainly not through the weekend.”

The Wings took a step back during this trip, surrendering their swagger. Now they host the Florida Panthers for weekend games, then face a six-game road trip. The season is only two weeks old, and already there’s despair.

“We have to find ways to get points at home,” Larkin said. “We’re playing against a Florida team that hasn’t played many games so we have to find a way to get points at home, and when we go back on the road, we have to be ready for that.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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Detroit Red Wings coaching staff looking at all options to boost power play

Jeff Blashill talks after Red Wings lose, 7-3, at Dallas. Jan. 28, 2021.

Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press

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