SAN JOSE, Calif. — Playing at home is the reason the Detroit Red Wings are treading water with a 16-16-5 record, and for a second time this season Little Caesars Arena beckons as a reprieve after a long week on the road.
It was a tired-looking Wings team that packed up at SAP Center on Tuesday, though there was no rush to the airport. With the Winnipeg Jets on the slate for Thursday, the Wings opted for a good night’s sleep in San Jose rather than red-eye it home to play for the fourth time in six days.
“These are the challenges you face in the NHL, and you’ve got to overcome the challenges,” coach Jeff Blashill said after Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Sharks. “Guys have to step up and play great hockey. We don’t have any choice but to face this challenge and try to find a way to overcome it.”
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Of the Wings’ 16 wins, 12 have come at Little Caesars Arena. They have not won on the road since Nov. 30 against the Bruins in Boston.
The excursion to California lasted a week, but the Wings played three times in four days — with just two points, and no wins — because their Jan. 6 game at Anaheim was rescheduled to Jan. 9 when the Ducks had COVID-19 issues. Such a compact schedule isn’t uncommon, but it is made more challenging by having to cross three time zones and then play again, 48 hours later.
Dylan Larkin missed Tuesday’s game because of an upper-body injury but it’s a short-term injury, and he could even be available against the Jets — that should become clearer with Thursday’s morning skate. His return would be a boost, but there are encouraging signs the Wings can take with them regardless.
Goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, who had a rough outing Dec.16 at Carolina and then tested positive for COVID, has rebounded with two straight strong starts. He was the one Wing who could hold his head high after the 4-0 loss at Los Angeles — he stopped 25 of 27 shots faced in the first period and 38 total; that was followed by a 37-save performance against the Sharks.
The other boost comes from the Wings’ power play, with goals with the man advantage in two straight games. Both came on a two-man advantage, but at least they had something to show for it.
“I think the confidence comes when you score, so that’s a positive thing,” Blashill said. “I didn’t necessarily love our power play from an execution standpoint, but I do think we scored two games in a row, so I do think that helps build confidence.”
Defenseman Nick Leddy — who, like Nedeljkovic, was one of multiple Wings who spent time in pandemic protocol during the Christmas break — suggested the Wings are doing the right things to get more out of their special teams.
“I think on the power play, we do have chances, we just need to bear down a little bit more,” he said. “It’s a great chance for the team to create moments.”
Overall, the trip to California “was not good enough,” Blashill said. “We needed more points than that. We are going to have to learn from it and we are going to have to get right back at it on Thursday. We’ve got a relentless schedule here, and we have to make sure we’re playing as good as we can.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.