Physical opponents expose how far Detroit Red Wings have to measure up

Detroit Free Press

A power play is an opportunity to punish a foe for a transgression, but the only ones feeling remorse are the Detroit Red Wings themselves.

They begin the first week of a new year humbled by two losses at home, welcoming  2022 with a 5-1 loss to the Boston Bruins two days after ringing out 2021 with a 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals. Coach Jeff Blashill noted after Sunday’s matinee at Little Caesars Arena that the Bruins, “want to bully you, that’s how they are, and I didn’t think we fought hard enough for ourselves.”

Captain Dylan Larkin put it similarly: “It was a physical game. It was a physical game against Washington, and I’ve really felt that when it’s gotten physical we’ve just been kind of been mediocre. We need to push back when it gets physical.”

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The Wings were outshot 37-24 against the Bruins, and 27-20 against the Capitals. Goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Alex Nedeljkovic did what they could, but Nedeljkovic couldn’t withstand the egregious defensive blunders that led the Bruins to a three-goal third period.

Beyond being pushed around, the Wings’ big failure has been on the power play — they were 0-for-3 against Washington, and 0-for-4 against the Bruins. All four power plays against Boston came while it was either a tied or one-goal game. On one of the man advantages, the Bruins had possession for the entirety of the first minute, and the Wings never registered a shot on net.

“We didn’t execute, didn’t even get shots,” Larkin said. “They had the puck. We have to find a way to get to our spots and when the puck is on our stick, we can’t force it. We forced it way too much. We had way too many plays get broken up just by forcing it, not moving it around the outside to get our spots to get the shots.

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“We didn’t have pushback. The power play would have been key to come back. That third period, we were way too passive. We pushed but we gave up chances going the other way, and we can’t do that. We have to come up with more of a team effort offensively and score on them and pin them in and make it hard on their D, and we just didn’t do that in the third period.”

The Wings (15-15-3) have converted 13 times on 90 power play opportunities. The times they have scored, they’ve moved the puck efficiently and gone to the net.

“Confidence spreads to special teams as well, and we have to understand how we’re going to have success,” Blashill said. “That’s quick puck movement and getting people to the cage.”

The Wings’ leading power play performers are rookies Moritz Seider (eight points) and Lucas Raymond (six points). Larkin is next with five points. Tyler Bertuzzi, who scored Sunday at even strength by going to the net, only has two power play points, even though he leads the team with nearly three minutes average of power play time. Filip Zadina averages nearly two minutes of power play time and has just four points.

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The Wings wrap up a three-game home stand Tuesday when they host the San Jose Sharks. There were positives to take away from the Capitals game, less from the Bruins performance. Sunday’s loss edged Boston one point ahead of Detroit in the standings, but the Bruins have played five fewer games. The Wings came out of the Christmas break hoping to gain ground, but they’ve slipped on the ice.

“Confidence matters a lot and we have to find a way to win a hockey game,” Blashill said. “To do that, you have to make sure you’re doing things right for 60.”

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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