Jeff Blashill: Detroit Red Wings have to do this to take strides forward

Detroit Free Press

Taking strides offensively won’t give the Detroit Red Wings the results they want unless their defense follows the pace.

It is a humbled Wings team that heads into weekend games at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday and at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday after giving up a season-high eight goals. The Wings scored five goals, including three from their nascent second line, but the end result from the Wings’ latest outing came up negative.

“We made terrible decisions with the puck, and you’re not winning that way,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We’ve talked lots about it, I think we’ve made some strides, but we went backwards. We forced plays we didn’t need to force, we didn’t execute with the puck, and ultimately we gave them a whole bunch of chances.

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“You can’t force things. You have to take what’s given. You can make plays when you have an opportunity to make a play, and you live another day when you don’t. It doesn’t matter if you’re down 7-1 or if you’re up 7-1. It’s the same thing. You have to play the right kind of hockey. If we want to take steps as we go through the second half of the season, we have to manage it way better than that.”

The game against the Blackhawks turned out so differently than it started: The Wings had the early jump, outshooting Chicago 7-1, and then they turned the puck over and the Blackhawks grabbed momentum and kept it. It was 4-0 when the first period ended.

“I thought the first five minutes we came out pretty good and we carried the play there, and then for whatever reason we got away from there and then shot ourselves in the foot a few too many times,” veteran defenseman Danny DeKeyser said. “We are at our best when we are getting over the red line, getting pucks deep and pounding the other team on the forecheck. When we start to pull up and start to make plays at their blue line or in the neutral zone, that’s when things start to go south for us.”

Alex Nedeljkovic, making his seventh straight start, was relieved by Calvin Pickard after the first period. It wasn’t a reflection on Nedeljkovic.

“That pull isn’t pinned on Ned at all,” Blashill said. “He’s had a heavy workload, so let’s give him a little breather. At the end of the day, our team wasn’t playing with the urgency needed so I didn’t think it was fair for Ned.”

Things went north in the second period, when Robby Fabbri, Tyler Bertuzzi and Pius Suter scored, but detoured the other way in the third period. The Wings didn’t execute and fell behind 6-3; Moritz Seider and Dylan Larkin made it 6-5, but then Nick Leddy made a doozy of a turnover and it was over.

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Five goals scored, and no points to show for it.

“I think we’re learning how to be efficient with our offense,” Blashill said. “It’s good that we have a little more firepower but you have to learn to play the right way with it. There’s times we’ve been that way and times when we’ve tried to force things and we’ve tried to make a play in every situation and you just can’t do that. It’s a learning process for the whole group of guys and we have to keep getting better at it.”

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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