Red Wings look to tighten up defensively after lackluster showing vs. Stars

Detroit News

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Detroit — As the Red Wings get ready to return to game action Thursday, it’s easy to pinpoint where the focus will be to improve.

The Wings weren’t very good defensively in Tuesday’s 5-2 loss in Dallas.

There simply were too many lapses in coverage, blown assignments, defensive principles that leave a coaching staff perplexed and displeased.

Coach Jeff Blashill, talking after Tuesday’s game, didn’t sound happy about the defensive performance.

“We were terrible defensively,” Blashill said. “The first half of the game, we competed like crazy in the offensive zone. We did a lot of stuff there. We worked hard, and then they’d come down and we gave up easy chances.

“What happened isn’t good enough.”

Entering Wednesday’s games, the Wings rank 23rd in the NHL with a goals-against average of 3.15 — not great, but better than eight other teams. And, when you delve into more specific defensive metrics, the Wings are even better.

Team defense hasn’t been a major Red Wings issue this season.

Which just makes Tuesday’s game a bigger head-scratching item.

 “This group has been pretty good defensively; we haven’t given up many grade-A chances comparative to the rest of the league, the big-time grade A’s,” Blashill said.

The Wings have overhauled their defense since the trade deadline, where they dealt defensemen Jon Merrill (to Montreal) and Patrik Nemeth (Colorado), taking out two of the better defensive defensemen the Wings had.

Since the deadline, young players Dennis Cholowski and Gustav Lindstrom, and seldom-used Alex Biega have earned more ice time, possibly affecting the cohesiveness of the unit.

But Blashill didn’t feel like Tuesday’s breakdown was caused by inexperience.

“Things were spread evenly; it wasn’t all younger people,” he said. “It was a couple mistakes by younger people for sure, and we have a lot of new faces in the lineup, so sometimes that hurts your ability to play as a five-man unit.

“But that wasn’t necessarily what this was. It wasn’t about five-man units as much as it was a singular mistakes that just can’t happen.

“Is that because they’re new? I don’t know the answer, but I know it happened and we have to get it corrected.

“We have to have simple defensive principles of protecting the slot, riding your check back to the net, and when you’re above people stay above people. We can’t be a team that’s chasing the game like that.”

Larkin injured

The Wings had a full day off Wednesday, so there was no update on forward Dylan Larkin, who was hurt late in Tuesday’s game.

The play occurred with just under three minutes remaining, after the faceoff, and Larkin immediately headed to the bench and stayed there for the rest of the game.

Video showed Larkin wincing, perhaps favoring his side or arm, and he skated gingerly off the ice after the game.

Blashill had no update after the game, adding he’d know more about Larkin’s availability for Thursday after the morning skate.

It was an eventful evening Tuesday for Larkin, who was assessed a five-minute major for fighting, after wrestling with Dallas defenseman Esa Lindell at the end of the second period.

Lindell cross-checked Larkin into the board, and Larkin immediately dropped the gloves.

Larkin scored midway in the third period, cutting the Stars’ lead to 4-2, with his ninth goal — but only his third in the last 21 games.

This hasn’t been the offensive season Larkin envisioned, but Blashill takes a broader view of assessing the captain’s contributions.

“I judge Dylan on how he leads this hockey team, No. 1, and making sure he’s leading by example to build a foundation of winning hockey, and then the completeness of his game,” Blashill said. “Certainly we need him to produce offense as well. But I judge Dylan more on other things than just scoring, but certainly for his sake it’s always good for offensive guys to score.

“Offensive players care about scoring. It matters to them, it matter to their confidence. But that’s not how I judge Dylan at all.”

Ice chips

The Wings also will know after Thursday’s morning skate regarding the availability of forward Robby Fabbri (upper body), who has been skating, but has missed the last nine games, and forward Joe Veleno, who ended his quarantine Sunday after returning from Sweden, and took part in the two morning skates in Dallas.

Veleno could make his NHL debut either Thursday or Saturday.

… Dallas begins a stretch Thursday of finishing its season with nine of 11 games on the road. The Stars are in the midst of a 40-games-in-70-days stretch, having had games postponed because of COVID-19 and the deadly winter storm in Texas.

“We have known all along it was coming,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said of the rugged finish to the schedule. “We knew we needed to have a successful homestand to get us back in the hunt. It wasn’t that long ago where we were 12 points back and now we are one, and it’s not like the schedule is going to get any easier with the nine road games we have coming up, but we have known all along it was coming.

“The most important thing is to go step-by-step and get back in the hunt. We are back in the hunt and now we have to manage it the best we can.”

Stars at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM

Outlook: The Red Wings (16-25-7) and Dallas (19-14-12) play Game 3 of this four-game, regular-season series. … The Wings are 1-3-2 against Dallas this season.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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