Detroit — The Red Wings have played better for several weeks now, since being routed in Nashville on March 25, exactly two weeks ago.
The Wings had looked better defensively and didn’t have many bad stretches within the game. They were playing smart hockey and weren’t letting deficits spiral out of control when they were trailing.
But Thursday at Little Caesars Arena, the Predators routed the Wings again.
All the Wings’ bad habits resurfaced Thursday in a game that gradually turned into a rout — a 7-1 Nashville victory, the identical score as the March 25 rout in Nashville.
Evidently, there are lessons still to be learned. Although it is getting frustrating that these types of ugly losses continue to pop up after the Wings seemingly begin to take positive steps forward.
“How many more times are we going to have to do this?” said forward Luke Glendening, of the Wings’ growing pains. “We’re all frustrated with it. I’m just as much to blame as anyone. I’m not pointing fingers, but how many more times are we going to have to do this before enough is enough?”
Defensive breakdowns, leaving too many Nashville players in prime positions to score, and not enough offense led to the Wings’ undoing. Add those things up, and the Wings (13-23-6), who for all the better hockey, have still only won one game in the last six (1-3-2).
“It’s another night where we got down and don’t respond well,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We’ve done a better job of that through the year, but (Thursday) we got down and we didn’t have the response.”
Darren Helm had the lone Wings’ goal.
Viktor Arvidsson had three goals, and Erik Haula, Nick Cousins, Mikael Granlund and Yakov Trenin added Predators (22-18-1) goals, while red-hot goaltender Juuse Saros made 23 saves.
The Wings welcomed back goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who had missed the last 10 games with a lower-body injury, and forward Sam Gagner (who missed five games), but the returns didn’t provide enough spark.
Bernier stopped 24 shots, but appeared to be lacking his usual timing most of the evening. But the Wings also didn’t help their goaltender.
“For sure we hung him out to dry, and that’s on all of us,” Glendening said. “Especially for a guy, he’s played so well for us all season and been keeping us in games, his first game back. That’s on us as players.”
The third period was especially rough for the Wings and Bernier, as the team’s defense allowed some real good looks for Nashville.
“I didn’t think we stayed with it for him enough,” Blashill said. “We got really stupid in the third, things we hadn’t done the rest of the game. We had those three lapses in the second (period) for sure, I get it, but they had some lapses too, it happens in a hockey game.
“In the third we just played stupid, and at that point, you have to play the right way. We stopped playing the right way.”
If there are playoff teams looking for goaltending depth at Monday’s deadline, it’ll be interesting to see if Bernier becomes an option given his recent injury.
Helm opened the game’s scoring with his third goal.
Another player who could be dealt by Monday’s deadline, Helm went to the net and deflected a shot by Troy Stecher from the point.
But the Predators quickly answered.
Cousins fed Arvidsson going to the net, and Arvidsson, who almost overskated the puck, managed a shot on Berner. The puck was never secured by Bernier, and it bounced off defenseman Jon Merrill and into the net at 2:28 — just 42 seconds after Helm’s goal.
The goal appeared to energize the Predators, who began to control the game.
Haula gave the Predators the lead at 6:36 of the second period.
Recent Red Wings tormentor Rocco Grimaldi continued getting on the scoresheet, setting up Haula. Grimaldi drove down the wing and centered a puck to Haula alone in the slot. Haula uncorked a wild-looking backhand that fooled Bernier enough at 8:50, Haula’s fourth goal, to make it 2-1 Nashville.
Cousins completed the second period Nashville surge.
It was the Predators’ energy line again, this time with Cousins getting the goal.
Colton Sissons fed Cousins the puck between the hash marks, and Cousins one-timed a shot past Bernier at 16:10, Cousins’ fourth goal.
“Certainly we understand Grade-A chances are the ones right in front of the net and you can’t give those up,” Blashill said. “We’ve done a good job of not giving up Grade-A’s, but tonight we were poor at it.”
The Predators, who won six of the eight games against the Wings, didn’t slow down in the final 20 minutes.
Granlund scored his 10th goal at 7:06 to push the lead to 4-1.
Then it was Arvidsson’s turn to complete his third career hat trick.
Arvidsson made it 5-1 with his seventh goal at the 10-minute mark. Arvidsson took a pass, skated down on a 2-on-1 rush, and unleashed a shot from the dot that Bernier was slow to react on.
Arvidsson completed Nashville’s three-goal in four-minute surge with his eighth goal and third of the evening, on the penalty shot at 11:06.
Trenin capped the Predators scoring, finally, with his third goal at 15:55, beating Bernier on a drive to the net.
“We talked about it before the game, we talk about it a lot, how we have to out work and out compete teams on a nightly basis to give ourselves a chance,” Glendening said. “We didn’t do that and because of that, they had easy opportunities to score goals.”