Detroit Red Wings have to push back when opponents snowball them

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Now it’s about how the Detroit Red Wings respond Thursday.

They flunked at pushing back against the Columbus Blue Jackets, two nights after they were pushed over by the Chicago Blackhawks. The Wings have generally redeemed themselves after blowouts this season, but their performance in the second period Tuesday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus cost them that bit of self-esteem. In 20 minutes, a 1-1 game degenerated into a 4-1 loss.

“We have to find a way within this group to stop the snowball effect when something goes wrong,” alternate captain Luke Glendening said. “It can’t turn into a whole bunch of things that go wrong.”

It was a disappointing ending after a tightly played first period, and it was almost a repeat of Sunday’s meltdown, when the Blackhawks blew open a 2-1 game with five third-period goals. Anthony Mantha broke out of an eight-game slump and scored on a power play, leveling the score after Cam Atkinson had scored shorthanded. The Wings won a challenge seven minutes into the second period to overturn a goal, but instead of using that to build momentum, they stood around and let the Blue Jackets shell Jonathan Bernier with 17 shots in the period.

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“We lost too many individual battles,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Our puck management was very poor. As the momentum shifted away from us, we allowed it to shift away from us. We didn’t have any pushback shifts at all. That happens when you turn pucks over, too, because then you just keep on defending. In the second, we were defending the whole time. And we were chasing them back up the ice, and that is no way to play hockey.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t have a better response. We have to be way better with the puck.”

When the Wings lost 7-2 to Florida on Feb. 19, they won the next night. They haven’t won after every rout, but they’ve at least played better and kept the score close. That fire wasn’t there against the Blue Jackets.

“We came out in the first, we played fine,” Blashill said “But once the goals started go the wrong way, we melted too much. We have to make sure we dig in better.

“We have to respond when we get scored on with good, solid hockey.”

Goalie Jonathan Bernier was chased after two periods; he didn’t have a great night, but he has been stellar most of the season. Thomas Greiss cleaned up in the third period with nine saves on nine shots, and he could use that bit of a boost after a rough February. Mantha played well, which was a positive after such a quiet stretch, and seeing the puck go in the net should reinforce that good things happen when he’s engaged.

“He keeps playing with that level of battle,” Blashill said, “They’ll keep going in for him.”

The Wings won’t have Dylan Larkin or Tyler Bertuzzi back by Thursday, though, and the absence of two-thirds of their top line has been felt. But the Wings need to get back to the identity they had begun to forge and at least make it hard on opponents.

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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