Why Detroit Red Wings are using series against Dallas Stars as test for the future

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings have been here before, in need of a restorative outing after a frustrating one.

They host the Stars on Thursday for the third of four meetings this week, returning from Dallas with bad results and a bruised captain. The Wings have eight games left in their season; the Stars, with 11 remaining, are battling to gain ground in the playoff race. The first game in Dallas came down to a shootout, which the Stars won; the Wings gifting them the second one on egregious defensive lapses looked careless.

“I don’t think it’s something that has been happening very often,” forward Sam Gagner said. “But at the same time, when you’re playing teams that are fighting for a playoff spot and they are important games, we need to grow in those areas if we are going to be a playoff team in the future here.”

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Dylan Larkin spent the last minute of Tuesday’s 5-2 loss on the bench in pain; coach Jeff Blashill said he expects to know more about Larkin’s status Thursday. The Wings lineup already has been patched to offset injuries to top-six forwards Tyler Bertuzzi (Jan. 30), Bobby Ryan (March 28) and Robby Fabbri (April 3).

The Wings are winless in their last three; before that, they’d won three in a row for the first time this season. Two of those victories came after the passing of the trade deadline dissipated some level of stress. Jakub Vrana, acquired at the deadline, earned his second point in three games Tuesday, but it was already 4-0 when he set up Valtteri Filppula’s goal. The Stars’ first goal happened after a weird bounce of the puck, but the second, third and fourth all happened with the Wings caught watching the puck rather than defending.

“The chances we gave up were Grade-A chances,” Gagner said. “We let their guys get inside of us. We shoot ourselves in the foot like that — we’ve been a pretty good team of — chances we give up, we keep to the outside. But we let them get to the inside too much, and then we’re chasing the game.

“Those are goals and chances that you have to do a better job of not giving up. It’s definitely an area we have to talk about and rectify.”

The Stars were basically given a two-point gift early in the second period.

“I thought we were terrible defensively,” Blashill said. “This crew has been pretty good defensively. We haven’t given up any Grade-A’s, comparative to the rest of the league — like the big-time Grade-A’s. We were terrible defensively in those situations.

“The first half of the game, we competed like crazy in the offensive zone. We did lots of stuff there, we worked hard, and then they came down and we gave them easy chances. What happened isn’t good enough.”

The Wings used 11 forwards and seven defensemen; the latter group included Alex Biega, Dennis Cholowski and Gustav Lindstrom, none of whom played much with the Wings until around the April 12 trade deadline, when defensemen Jon Merrill and Patrik Nemeth were sent to contenders. But the Wings have shown they can play well since undergoing personnel changes.

There’s a little more than two weeks left before the Wings (16-25-7) are done for the season. They’ve talked about how meaningful these games are even without the lure of the playoffs, because players are battling for jobs, battling to impress general manager Steve Yzerman. Tuesday’s outing wasn’t one for the résumé. On to the next one.

“It’s frustrating,” Blashill said. “We have to find a way to correct it and make sure it doesn’t happen again on Thursday.”

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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