Struggling Red Wings trying to regain defensive identity

Detroit News

Glendale, Ariz. — The Red Wings were beginning to build a reputation as a good defensive team last season.

They were hoping to build upon that, make it their identity.

It was a good plan, and it may prove out.

But not right now.

Thursday’s 5-2 loss in Vegas, though a little better defensive performance, was the third consecutive game — all losses — the Wings allowed five goals.

They are yielding 3.42 goals per game, 28th out of 32 NHL teams.

“As the year went on last year we had trouble offensively, but we were trying to create a team that didn’t give you much and was hard to play against,” forward Sam Gagner said. “I don’t think we’ve been that enough (this season) and that’s what we need to be.

“We’re creating enough chances to win hockey games and we’re getting good goaltending. We have to defend better.”

As the Wings finish this four-game road trip Saturday in Arizona, they are 8-9-2. It’s competitive, and keeps the Wings within shouting distance of the division and conference leaders.

But had they played the type of defense they want, the Wings could be nearer the top of the standings.

“The thing about good defensive hockey is that it really should be called ‘good winning hockey,'” coach Jeff Blashill said. “It has nothing to do with being one way or the other. The only way anybody wins in this league is with good defense.

“Statistically we’re one of the worst defensive teams in the league and we have to become a better defensive team. We sit one game under .500. We came into (Thursday’s game) at .500 and defensively we’re not even close. There’s also a bright light at the end of tunnel that says, ‘OK, if we get way better defensively, we can be a good hockey team.’”

More: Larkin returns to Red Wings’ lineup, relieved and grateful

Friday’s practice in Scottsdale was one of the few quality chances the Wings have had to practice and reinforce some basic tenets.

“We have to get our structure and our habits back, specifically in defensive zone coverage,” Blashill said.

The Wings are incorporating several young players, and a few new veterans into the mix this season. But on the whole, it’s been the veterans who’ve struggled on the defensive end. Regardless, the entire lineup can play better.

“It comes down to executing,” Gagner said. “We have a structure and we got to stick to it and make sure we’re on the same page.”

Seider ready

Defenseman Moritz Seider was hit by a puck late in Thursday’s game, near the knee or thigh. He appeared to be in pain, straining to get to the bench.

He headed straight to the locker room.

But Seider was back on the ice Friday, practiced, and appears set to play against the Coyotes.

“He looks like he’ll be able to go,” Blashill said. “So, we plan on having him ready.”

Seider continues to make an impact at both ends of the ice. His 13 points trail only teammate Lucas Raymond (18). Losing him would have a dramatic impact on the Wings’ lineup.

“He’s huge for us, the confidence and the poise he plays with, the aggressiveness,” Gagner said. “He’s been unbelievable for us. He is a guy that’s leading for us even as a young guy, a huge importance to our team.”

Notable return

Forward Givani Smith returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for three games. He scored a goal and was a physical presence around the net.

The Wings would love to see that consistently from Smith.

“Givani’s had a number of games where in the offensive zone he’s done a good job,” Blashill said. “He still has to keep working on the other side of the ice. But (Thursday in Vegas) he was on the puck, he was physical.

“One thing Givani brings us that we don’t have tons of is big size. So against those real big defensemen, the corps in Vegas is real big and strong, and he’s able to create puck battle wins because of his size and strength and the way he plays.

“Givani has to find a way to do that on a night-to-night basis and then sharpen up a little bit at the other end. But so do a number of our guys.”

Red Wings at Coyotes

Faceoff: 8 p.m., Saturday, Gila River Arena, Glendale, Arizona.

TV/radio: BSD/97.1

Outlook: Arizona (2-13-2)  scores the fewest goals per game (1.76) and allows the most (3.82). …The Coyotes have earned three out of four points in the last two games, though. … D Shayne Gostisbehere (two goals, 11 assists) is the lone Coyotes player in double figures with 13 points.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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