Dylan Larkin was succinct: “This one hurts, a lot.”
The Detroit Red Wings captain had just scored twice, reaching 22 goals. The Wings were 10 minutes from delivering what would have been excellent weekend results — and then they self-destructed. It’s what coach Jeff Blashill has reiterated over the past month: The Wings are still learning how to win — and it starts with not allowing an opponent to rally from down 4-2 to win, 7-4.
“You have to find ways to win, but that comes with being a better defensive team,” Blashill said Saturday. “We have to be way better defensively in those situations. Some of our guys, as they’re growing, and through these experiences, we have to get better. If we don’t grow from it, then it’s all for naught. As hard as it is to handle that, as hard as it is a pill to swallow, the biggest thing is, we better get better from it.”
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The Wings (19-20-6) can distance themselves from the loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs as soon as Monday, when the Anaheim Ducks visit Little Caesars Arena.
Saturday’s disappointment came the week after the Wings had a 4-3 lead against the Dallas Stars end in a 5-4 overtime loss.
“I think we just sat back and when pucks were on our sticks, we didn’t execute on the breakouts and they were able to swarm us,” Larkin said. “The most we had was chipping it out and then they came back again. We have to find a way to rally and get a shift or two in the offensive zone and make it hard on their players.
“I think it’s a mentality thing. We let them have their way. We sat back and they came in waves and you can’t do that. They’re too good a team offensively.”
Adding to the disappointing finish vs. the Leafswas that just 24 hours earlier, the Wings claimed a 3-2 shootout victory in Pittsburgh against an equally high-powered offensive team. The Wings managed the puck well, and played to the identity they need to have to be successful. They started well against the Leafs, with Larkin scoring less than two minutes into the game, and twice had two-goal leads.
“Four periods we played the way we have to play for us to be successful — we were fast, we laid pucks in behind, we pressured, we were in their zone,” Blashill said of the weekend games. “There’s examples of how we need to play and examples of what not to do.”
The Wings host the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday, then have a week off for the All-Star break. The rest of the season includes multiple games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers and Penguins, all teams jockeying for playoff positioning. If the Wings want to end games with celebrations, they’re going to have to be way better defensively than the 10 minutes that marred their weekend.
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“We have to find a way to win those games,” Larkin said. “There’s nothing we can say right now except we have to find a way to do it against Anaheim and do it against L.A., and then you go into the break and have a great finish.”
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.