Detroit — Players and coaches agree this has been an NHL season unlike any other.
Big and small changes while playing through a pandemic have made for a different season. When you lose more than win, it makes an already challenging campaign more taxing.
And the standings tell the story for the Red Wings. They are 17-25-8 entering Tuesday’s game against Columbus, a team trailing the Wings by two points in the Central Division standings.
If you’ve watched this Red Wings team on television on a nightly basis or covered them, you can’t deny facts. They’ve gotten better, individually and collectively, despite the noise around them.
Coach Jeff Blashill called it out the other day, noting what has stood out in this irregular season.
“I would say both on and off the ice, our push to keep getting better on a daily basis,” Blashill said.
On many levels, this Wings season has been so much more watchable than last season — a low bar to jump over — and maybe the last several seasons.
For Blashill, who doesn’t have a contract for next season, the way this roster has continued to forge ahead could be a check in the “why to bring him back” column.
This season would have been an easy one for this team to mentally get away from, especially after a disastrous first month (2-6-2) and an eight-game winless streak from Jan. 22 to Feb. 5.
In a 56-game shortened season, that start pretty much finished the Wings’ season. Five key regulars in the lineup contracted COVID-19 a week into the season and gut-punched it.
But the Wings have continued to play hard and be competitive, and have proven to be a thorn for the top half of the division (eight wins against powerhouses Carolina, Tampa and Florida).
Especially after some stink-bomb losses, the Wings have come back strong the next game.
“Certainly we’d like our record to be better than it is,” Blashill said. “In critical moments, we’ve stubbed our toes a lot, no doubt about that. But our guys came back the next night and came back ready to get after it and they’ve done that consistently.
“That’s been to me the biggest (trademark) of this team, on a night-to-night basis. They’ve pushed to get better.”
There have been no days off for the Wings — or anyone in the NHL.
Even on days when the Wings have no scheduled practice, all have been required to come to Little Caesars Arena to get tested for the coronavirus. So, to a certain extent, there have been no complete days off away from hockey since practice began on Jan. 1.
“Through different moments of adversity, continuing to come the next day and push to get better,” Blashill said of what he was pleased about. “We have a whole bunch of guys that care a bunch, that are great character people. They want to push to get better individually and want to get better as a group.”
Young players have continued to be blended into the roster this season and have taken bigger roles and solidified spots.
When forward Jakub Vrana was acquired in a trade earlier this month from Washington for Anthony Mantha, Vrana immediately sensed an attitude that was admirable and exciting for the future.
“We’re trying to build something here,” Vrana said. “There are some young guys coming into the league and they are getting to know the league and they’re learning here. We are trying to get better and work on things. I can say everyone has a work ethic here.
“We’re trying to do the best we can every game and make it count.”
Blashill feels the Wings need to improve offensively.
The Wings rank 30th (of 31 teams) with 2.28 goals per game, 29th with 114 goals and 30th on the power play (11%).
A better offensive attack would help the Wings grow in a variety of ways, specifically taking some pressure off the impressive goaltending tandem of Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss.
“Ultimately we need to increase scoring and we talked about it after Vrana’s four-goal game (last week) that scoring alleviates the pressure to make zero mistakes,” Blashill said. “If you don’t score at all, you can’t make mistakes.
“But when you score, you almost forget about some of those mistakes a little bit. It’s like good goaltending. When you get great goaltending, you forget about some mistakes.
“We have to find ways to score more. We’ve taken steps defensively, but certainly there are more steps to take.”