Glendale, Ariz. — The Red Wings reached the 20-game mark Saturday, essentially the quarter-pole of the NHL schedule.
It’s been a sprint of a schedule, with little time for practice, and the Wings have been hurt by of it lately.
After a promising start, the Wings have slipped. Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss in Arizona — the NHL’s worst team — capped a four-game winless (0-3-1) road trip.
The trip definitely put a sour taste on a 20-game segment that offered definite hope — including the standout performances of rookies Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond, Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi’s strong starts, and consistent goaltending of Alex Nedeljkovic and Thomas Greiss, leading the way.
But there also were many signs the Wings need to get better.
“Listen, we can write whatever story we want to write,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We have to decide what we want to be. It won’t be easy for sure. It’s a lot of games, and we had it at 20 games in 37 days and that’s a lot of games and not very much time, especially for young players where this league’s really hard every single night, to get good practice.
“There’s no one saying it’s going to be easy.
“We just have to keep building here and keep progressing as a group.”
The schedule has been a factor in many ways. In last three weeks, the Wings have been deluged with 11 games in 19 days in one stretch, including a pair of one-week road trips.
The Wings haven’t practiced much, and have looked physically and mentally gassed at times.
But there have been glimpses of promising play that have been encouraging moving forward.
“We’ve played a ton of hockey,” said Larkin, who scored the Wings’ lone goal Saturday, his ninth, and has been one of the Wings’ best players this segment. “We’ve really grinded, and it hasn’t been going our way, but there’s a lot to look back on this stretch. We’ve played some good hockey, especially at home.
“The schedule till Christmas is a lot less games, so we have to find a way to play some good hockey before Christmas.”
The way the Wings played when starting the season 4-2-1, then winning four of five games after losing four consecutive games to open November, was encouraging for a team that was learning how to win.
“(The) swagger starting the season, we played hard and confident,” Larkin said.
But on this recent four-game trip, issues on team defense, inconsistent offense, and signs the Wings hadn’t completely learned how to put teams away all surfaced.
“This past road trip we haven’t been as confident,” Larkin said. “With a one-goal lead (such as Saturday), we have to be a way more confident hockey team. We haven’t been able to practice much. But we’re going back home, have a couple of hard practices and start figuring things out and get back to what it takes for us to be successful.
“Playing hard, together and playing fast.”
Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss was a sign this particular Wings’ roster still is grasping for contender’s status.
The Wings held that 1-0 lead on the Coyotes for much of the game, and yet, weren’t able to snare that second goal, which could have been the difference in the game.
The Wings played too much in the defensive end as the game progressed, and ultimately, it cost them.
“We didn’t have enough push, maybe not push, but sustained pressure and it’s a balancing act,” Blashill said. “We have to keep working and figuring it out. We haven’t won enough as a group here over the last number of years to say that we know how to do that. We’re still working to do that, and we’ve made progress at times, but it’s something we have to keep getting better at.
“This is the area, probably the biggest area, when you have leads, and you’re not able to build on that lead, finding a way to win. And I do think it’s a big area we have to keep growing as a group.”
The Wings play nine of their next 16 games at Little Caesars Arena. The Wings are 5-2-2 at LCA, at times looking like an exciting, confident group. But they’re only 3-7-1 on the road, a disparity that will need to change over the last 62 games if the Wings want to make this a successful season.
“For whatever reason, we’re way more confident at home,” Larkin said. “We play faster.
“There’s no reason for it.”
Where the Red Wings rank at the 20-game mark:
►Win percentage: .475 (25th)
►Goals per game: 2.70 (20th)
►Goals against per game: 3.35 (27th)
►Power play: 15.8 (24th)
►Penalty kill: 78.7 (21st)
►Shots per game: 29.4 (24th)
►Shots against per game: 33.9 (28th)