Detroit — How would the Red Wings respond?
That’s what captain Dylan Larkin wanted to know after the Wings were trounced by the Nashville Predators at Little Caesars Arena, then headed out for a 48-hour road trip to St. Louis and Colorado.
The look on Larkin’s face and the dejection in his voice after Friday’s 7-3 blowout loss in Denver told the story. Detroit also fell flat in a 6-2 loss to the Blues.
“It’s disappointing,” Larkin said. “It was a back-to-back, four points on the line and we didn’t come up with any. We had a good stretch and we’re a little banged up right now.
“But we got to find a way to get something.”
The good news: The Wings return home and Monday start preparing for the New York Islanders, who they defeated 4-3 in overtime Dec. 4 at LCA. Detroit is 9-3-2 on home ice.
Three times this season, the Wings have returned from multi-game road trips without winning a game (the other two were four-game trips).
The previous times, the team was able to adjust and start win streaks.
“You look at our most recent struggles,” Larkin said. “We had a couple of practice days, came out and won five in a row. We need to get back to work at home and hopefully get some guys back and see what can happen.”
Coach Jeff Blashill said after Friday’s loss that forward Tyler Bertuzzi (out five games on COVID-19 protocol) would be ready to play against the Islanders. The status of Marc Staal (COVID protocol), who has missed three games, remains uncertain
The Wings need improvement on the defensive end, where they have allowed 18 goals in the last three losses. Detroit has sunk to 27th in the NHL with a 3.43 goals-against average.
“We’re going to get back to work and get better, especially in our D-zone coverage,” Blashill said. “We can’t give up the number of chances we gave up. We did create chances, our guys stayed with it in a tough environment (in Denver), and I’m happy for that.
“But we have to grow here. We got to get back, take a breath and be ready for a big game on Tuesday.”
Ramping up defensively and managing the puck better are two areas Blashill targeted after the loss to the Avalanche.
“I’ve talked about it a lot — when you’re on the road you have to be great defensively and you have to manage the puck great to win,” Blashill said. “I don’t think even at home we’ve been great defensively or managed the puck well enough. Sometimes you have to keep getting slapped in the face to continue to realize it, especially the puck management part of it. You can get away with it at times at home because momentum is totally different.
“If we want to win more on the road and we want to win later in the season, and we want to win against great teams, we have to keep working to be better defensively. We have to keep working to manage the puck.”
Having Bertuzzi and Staal unavailable due to COVID protocol, and just getting Danny DeKeyser back from the list, the Wings instituted conditions similar to last season for the two-game trip.
They arrived late into St. Louis on Wednesday night, had a game the next day, then flew out to Denver and had another game Friday. It wasn’t difficult to stay and eat in your room, and basically just go between the hotel and arena for a 48-hour period.
But with COVID cases surging, caution is heightened.
“You’re in a back-to-back (game situation), so it wasn’t a big deal on this trip,” Blashill said. “Nobody wants to go through that for the course of the rest of the season (like last season), but we also want to make sure we don’t lose players. We’re doing what we can do to mitigate the number of players both in their health and from a competitive standpoint, that we don’t lose any more players.”
The Wings are 4-9-1 away from LCA. Larkin believes it’s been tougher to win this season away from home ice for every team, with the excitement of fans returning to arenas (many arenas remained empty last season due to the coronavirus).
“It’s not uncommon to look around the league and see everyone has a great home record,” Larkin said. “Fans are back in the building, and it’s exciting to be home. There’s extra jump.”