Detroit Red Wings look for answers on defense: ‘Statistically, we’re one of the worst’

Detroit Free Press

PHOENIX — The plan for the Detroit Red Wings is to mirror what they did two weeks ago, when they righted themselves at the tail end of a rough road trip.

They limp into Saturday’s matchup against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on an 0-3 free fall, having surrendered five goals on each of the stops in Columbus, Dallas and Las Vegas. They’re in a situation similar to the start of the month, when they capped a three-game winless streak on the road by rallying for an overtime victory at Buffalo, which propelled them onto a 4-1 streak.

Then they went on the road again and slipped.

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“In this league, it can change fast, especially when you’re playing lots of games,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We have to earn that confidence by getting back to playing way better defensive hockey. In the end, we had plenty of chances to score (Thursday). But when you give up that many goals, you’re just never going to be able to overcome that, and if you do, it’s going to be once in a blue moon.

“We have to make sure that we earn that confidence back.”

Playing better defensively is a drum Blashill has beaten louder and louder. The Wings (8-9-2) have a 3.42 goals-against average and are giving up an average of 34.1 shots per game. Veteran forward Sam Gagner pointed to a lack of making smart decisions with the puck and a need to, if not stopping opponents from cycling the puck, at least keeping their shots to the perimeter.

“Confidence goes both ways, offensively, defensively,” he said. “But the only way to get it back is through work and making sure we’re detailed. We’re making errors that, as a team that’s trying to grow here and forge an identity, we have to be better in those areas. There’s certainly room for improvement. We were building in that area and have taken a step back.”

The Coyotes have issues of their own: They’ve won twice in 17 games. But underestimating their opponent is the last thing the Wings can afford to do. The frustrating thing for them is that they’re pretty good when they work hard and bear down, but this trip has not reflected that.

There have been spurts of playing well — they had a good start against the Golden Knights, and Tuesday at the Dallas — but three straight games now they’ve stopped doing things right.

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“When you’re not good enough defensively, it’s really hard to win on the road, because momentum will go the other way,” Blashill said. “You can quell that momentum easier at home, you can gain momentum easier at home by scoring. I think it comes back to we have to become a better defensive team because statistically, we’re one of the worst defensive teams in the league.

We sit one game under .500 and defensively we’re not even close, so to me, there’s a bright light there that at the end of the tunnel says, OK, if we get way better defensively, we can be a good hockey team.”

Contact Helene St. James at 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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