Detroit Red Wings still aren’t winning, but see light at the end of injury-plagued tunnel

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
 
| Detroit Free Press

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As the Detroit Red Wings get healthier, so may their record.

Over the past week, the Wings have regained five players who tested positive for COVID-19 the first week of the season. As those players, a group that includes top-six forwards Filip Zadina and Robby Fabbri and defenseman Jon Merrill, regain their game-shape, the Wings (2-8-2 ) are hopeful they can end an eight-game winless skid Sunday when they take on the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.

Part of that optimism rests on delivering a competitive effort Friday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning that ended with a 3-1 loss.

“Everybody is going to have to go through it in some fashion with COVID, that’s just the way it is going to be,’ Bobby Ryan said after Saturday’s practice. “But as you get guys healthy and you get guys into game speed and form, we can certainly build. That’s the thing — good hockey, winning hockey, is always repeatable. It’s just about doing the little things, the little details, over and over again. That’s why teams like Boston have success every year. They do all the things right for 60 minutes.

“We do it in spurts, but we don’t do it long enough, and that’s something that has to be corrected for us to have any success going forward.”

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The Wings have not won since beating Columbus the first week of the season. But that was also when they lost Fabbri and Adam Erne to pandemic protocol, followed three days later by Zadina, Merrill and Sam Gagner.

That wiped out the Wings’ second line that had Ryan with Fabbri and Zadina.

“Both my linemates went down one game in and those are the only two guys I skated with,” Ryan said. “You get shuffled and those things happen. Then they come back and really, I’m playing with Fabs and I’ve only had 10-12 skates with him as a linemate, so you are kind of trying to figure those things out on the fly.”

The Wings arrived at their hotel in Fort Lauderdale on Friday night. Gagner left Friday’s game after sliding into the boards but Blashill said he practiced Saturday; Blashill said no one new is expected to miss Sunday’s game. Jonathan Bernier remains sidelined with an upper body injury after being run into by Anthony Mantha Jan. 26.

The focus is avoiding a repeat of last season, when the Wings finished last.

“If you worry about things you’ve done in the past that you can’t change, that puts stress on you and your body that you don’t need,” Blashill said. “There’s not one thing we can do about what has happened. The other part of it is, we’re process oriented. You look at it and say, OK, how was the process? Well the process was pretty good. We defended well, we checked hard, we were above them. We clogged up the neutral zone. We competed really hard. We didn’t get the result we wanted, but my question to our group is, can you do that again?

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“I don’t think there was anything extraordinary in the effort, it was just playing the right way and playing winning-type hockey. We are just trying to grow. And when you are trying to grow as a team and you are trying to grow as individuals, you can’t let the frustrating results get in the way of that growth. Sure it is frustrating at times. Sure you look at your record and you don’t like it. But you have to block that stuff out and move forward.”

Ryan, 33, is among a handful of players expected to help the Wings do better than last season’s last-place finish.

“It’s kind of cliche, but the answer kind of never changes,” Ryan said. “When you look at video and dissect the game, you have to look at the things that you did well and then find those bullet points and build on them. The first game (against the Lightning), we gave them the neutral zone and they had a field day with it. So when you look at the difference between the two, it’s a major contrast. We clogged the neutral zone up and made it hard for the to get through.

“We have to understand, we are not going to win track meets and things like that with offenses in this league. We are going to have to be low-scoring, one-goal games. Mentally those can get wearing when you are on the losing side of those things, but you just have to continue to go to work, and continue to do those little things and then eventually you start to see the fruit of the labor. The games get a little easier to play like that and then you build and you hope it turns. Especially in a year like this, you have to do it fairly quickly because there’s no runway to get behind teams.”

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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