Las Vegas — This wasn’t a fun evening for the Red Wings in the entertainment capital of the world.
The Wings are leaving Vegas like so many other visitors, a little worse for wear, after losing 5-2 to the undermanned Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.
Vegas scored four times in the second period, as the Wings’ defensive issues continued to materialize at unfortunate times and the Wings (8-9-2) lost their third consecutive game on this four-game road trip, and fourth in the last five games overall.
The Wings have allowed five goals in all three losses on this road trip.
“And we’re getting good goaltending,” forward Sam Gagner said. “It’s just a scenario where we have to be better defensively. We talked about that being our identity and it has to be a lot better.”
The Wings wanted to be a team with a tough defensive identity this season, building off what they began to develop last season.
But thus far through the first-quarter of the season, the Wings have been uncharacteristically loose defensively and it’s hurt them often.
“We made some mistakes and pucks went in, but we were better defensively at times for sure, certainly than we were the last couple of games,” said coach Jeff Blashill of Thursday’s loss. “We still made some mistakes and when we made them, they ended up in our net and that’s unfortunate, not good enough.
“We have to get our structure back and our habits back, specifically in defensive zone coverage and tracking going into our end.”
Givani Smith, returning to the lineup after a three-game stretch as a healthy scratch, scored for the Wings, along with Joe Veleno in the final minute.
“Givani Smith came in and played real well,” Blashill said. “The line, they were on the ice for a goal against and that was a mistake, but Givani Smith gave us a spark and played real well.”
Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic came out to the begin the third period, replacing Thomas Greiss (11 saves on 15 shots).
One item to monitor in the next couple of days will be the health of defenseman Moritz Seider.
The Wings lost Seider late in the third period when he blocked a shot, getting hit near the knee or shin area. Seider was in obvious pain and had difficulty getting to the bench, not putting much pressure on his right leg, before heading straight to the locker room.
Blashill had no immediate update after the game.
Zach Whitecloud had two Vegas (10-7-0) goals, while Nicolas Hague, Paul Cotter (Canton/Western Michigan) and Reilly Smith added one each.
Smith cut the lead to 2-1 at 10:19 of the second period, tapping a loose puck near the post during a scramble in front of goaltender Robin Lehner.
But the Wings’ rally was short-lived, as Whitecloud scored his second of the game at 12:32 after Vegas won a face-off and Whitecloud got the puck at the point, then lifted a shot that deflected off the back of Danny DeKeyser and past Greiss.
Cotter’s goal was another dagger, putting the Wings three goals behind heading into the final period — then again, the Wings have been allowing quite a few dagger goals in the last little while.
“We’re creating enough chances to win hockey games,” Gagner said. “We have to defend better.”
The Wings stand 28th (out of 32 teams) in goals against, allowing 3.42 goals per game. Many of the defensive metrics aren’t kind to the Wings, who are incorporating several young players into the lineup, but rookies and veterans alike making too many defensive errors.
“We don’t have exactly the same team (from last season) and we have to get back to work,” Blashill said. “We were getting better over the course of the last week and a half, we haven’t practiced (much because of the demanding recent schedule) and I look back and we’ve lost our structure and our habits. That’s the biggest thing for me.”