What Jeff Blashill told Detroit Red Wings after another postponed game: ‘We need to get better’

Detroit Free Press

Steve Yzerman called with the news just before practice, and by the time he took the ice, Jeff Blashill had his message ready for the Detroit Red Wings: They would not be facing the Islanders because Wednesday’s game was the latest casualty of COVID-19, but the work focus remained the same.

“I just said, we weren’t going to play and we weren’t going to travel, but we need to get better,” Blashill said Tuesday afternoon. “And as we sit here today, we are playing on Friday, so we have to make use of this time and make sure we are getting better in practice. The guys went out and had a good practice.”

The Wings, who were so hard hit by the virus they shut down Dec. 19-25, gained two more players as goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic and forward Filip Zadina were removed from quarantine, joining a list that since Sunday includes Blashill, Pius Suter, Robby Fabbri and Michael Rasmussen.

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Forward Lucas Raymond and defenseman Nick Leddy are among those still in protocol, and Blashill does not expect either to be available for the New Year’s Eve game against the Washington Capitals.

Nedeljkovic was in protocol when the Wings beat the New Jersey Devils Dec. 18. His last game was Dec. 16, and with his COVID symptoms no worse than a stuffy nose, he used synaptic goggles to do drills, rode his Peloton bike, and took his dog for extra walks during quarantine to stay in shape.

There’s nothing that can simulate a game as far as getting his timing back, but the extra practices afforded by another postponement will help.

“We’ll try to look at it in a positive way,” Nedeljkovic said. “We’ll get a few more practices in and get a few more guys back. It’s unfortunate — we just want to start playing game and get them out of the way, so we’re not postponing them to later in the season.”

The Wings also had their Dec. 20 home game against the Colorado Avalanche, Dec. 23 at the Minnesota Wild, and Monday’s game at the New York Rangers marked for rescheduling. NHL-wide, the number of postponed games has climbed to 80.

Yzerman delivered the news just before practice began at 2:30 p.m. The Wings had been scheduled to fly to New York at 5 p.m.

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“I was disappointed,” Blashill said. “I’m happy for the guys that would have missed the game, they don’t need to miss that game any more.  But personally I wanted to go play, I wanted to get going. We are all anxious to play again and we all understand these are tough times and we just have to work through them.”

The NHL opted out of sending its players to the 2022 Beijing Olympics just before Christmas because the league needs the allotted break in February to fit in a full season. The Wings have only had one game at Little Caesars Arena postponed.

More: How NHL pulling out of 2022 Beijing Olympics affects Detroit Red Wings

“It does give us that time period, but there’s challenges with that — it’s not like the buildings are sitting empty,” Blashill said. “Some of us are going to end up with games that are on top of each other, that you would like to avoid, and that was part of the reason I would have liked to play. I don’t want to, two weeks from now, to play every other day for three straight weeks and never practice. But it is out of our control.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. 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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