Detroit — Playing on the road hasn’t been pleasant for the Red Wings this season.
They’ve only won four games, which has kept this unexpectedly promising season from becoming a lot better.
The Wings embark on a three-game trip beginning Thursday through California, with the first test against the Anaheim Ducks.
Coming off a convincing 6-2 victory Tuesday at home against San Jose — where the Wings will end the California roadie — the Wings are heading into this trip with new-found confidence.
“We want to get as many points as we can down the stretch,” said forward Pius Suter, who sparked Tuesday’s win, both Suter and Tyler Bertuzzi getting two goals in the victory. “Road trips haven’t been as good as we’d like (this season), so we need to get off to a good start the next game and perform like (Tuesday) and that’ll help us moving forward.”
The Wings are 4-10-1 away from Little Caesars Arena and have lost their last three consecutive games. The Wings’ last road victory was Nov. 30 in Boston. Due to COVID postponements, the Wings only played three road games in December — but all were decided losses to St. Louis, Colorado and Carolina, three of the NHL’s best teams.
After losses to Washington and Boston at LCA last weekend — each gut-wrenching in the manner they unfolded — the way the Wings rebounded and took the game to San Jose was a step forward.
“We have to play as good as possible defensively,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We played pretty good against Washington and didn’t think good enough against Boston. (Tuesday) we did some good things that will help us be good on the road. We played a fairly smothering style from a defensive standpoint, not giving them space. That’s an important thing if you’re going to win on the road.
“Hopefully we’ll continue to grow and learn as a hockey team for us to be successful home and away, but especially on the road.”
Here are some reasons the Wings feel they’re better equipped for the road this time, along with some key things to watch:
► Sense of urgency: The Wings started fast against the Sharks, kept the pressure on, and played with more fire and determination, unlike against the Bruins.
The Wings were definitely involved physically — especially forward Givani Smith — and took it to the Sharks from that standpoint, successfully.
“I definitely saw a sense of urgency from our team,” Blashill said. “We gapped on the track hard, which allowed us to kind of take the game to them a little bit. We didn’t give them much space at all. We battled hard, and we competed from a physical standpoint.”
►Offense heats up: The six goals scored were definitely a pleasant revelation, considering the one goal each against Washington and Boston.
Both Anaheim and Los Angeles are allowing only 2.67 goals per game, they rank ninth and 10th respectively in the NHL, so scoring goals isn’t going to be easy.
“Offense matters,” Blashill said. “When you are able to get six, it helps guys, helps them feel good about themselves. Confidence can lead to more offense.”
And with many players contributing offensively, a dose of confidence was spread around.
“Everybody takes something really good (out of Tuesday’s game),” Suter said. “The confidence, a lot of different guys scoring and also we’re playing really well defensively That’s huge, and you can build from that.”
► Rasmussen’s impact: The Wings received a spark from Michael Rasmussen, who was put on a wing playing with Suter and Robby Fabbri. The line produced three goals, while Rasmussen contributed a nice assist on a Suter goal along with a net-front presence.
“Ras played a really good game, as good a game as he’s played in a while,” Blashill said. “Ras all season has competed extremely hard, has worked extremely hard. He’s very driven to be a great player. He’s had some defensive lapses at times at center, so, I wanted to take a little bit of pressure off him, give him the opportunity to play wing, be hard at the net, be physical.
“It’s hard to be constantly on the net when you’re a center because you’re thinking about getting back, so that’s one of his best attributes offensively. It also gave Joe Veleno a look up the lineup (center on third line), which we wanted to do as well.”
► Givani Smith’s physicality: Smith didn’t play much, but got into a spirited fight early in the game against San Jose’s Jacob Middleton, then was kicked out with a game misconduct for boarding Middleton in the corner.
But the physicality and grit Smith showed appeared to spark the Wings.
“He was good. He fought, he hit,” Blashill said. “It wasn’t something where I was, ‘oh gee, what are you doing’? Not at all. In the little bit he played he played with poise, played strong, he battled hard.
“I was happy with those couple minutes of ice time.”
► COVID? Many parts of California are hotbeds for the virus currently, and simply around the NHL, the virus isn’t going way.
The Wings were heavily impacted just before, and during the holidays, but appear on the way out of things. Still, there are players who haven’t contracted it, and it could conceivably impact the Wings on the road.
Concern, though, is minimal.
“Not really (concerned),” Suter said. “Most guys have gone through it already the last few weeks. Hopefully we get some good weather so we’re outside. It’s not much of a concern.”
Red Wings at Ducks
►Faceoff: 10 p.m., Thursday, Honda Center.
►Outlook: The Ducks (18-11-7) have been one of the surprise teams of the season. The young roster has matured and progressed quickly, and Anaheim is thinking playoffs. … RW Troy Terry (21 goals), C Trevor Zegras (17 assists, 25 points) and G John GIbson (12-9-6, .917 SVS) have been standouts.