How pain of Detroit Red Wings losses is fueling young team’s improvement

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings head into their last game before a weeklong pause intent on showing they learned from the pain they endured earlier this month.

The Los Angeles Kings are on Wednesday’s slate at Little Caesars Arena before everyone scatters for the All-Star break. The Wings (20-20-6) played their worst first period of the season when they were in LA at the start of January, but they host them in a far better state of mind. The Wings have won two of their last three games on the strength of having bounced back after disappointing outings.

Never mind the winter storm  forecasted for Wednesday; the Wings are determined not to get snowed under.

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“We’ve had a great intensity and focus,” captain Dylan Larkin said Tuesday. “We need to maintain that. I’ve experienced difficult games going into a break where your mind starts to think about what’s next. This is a huge game and if we don’t come ready, they’re going to embarrass us like they did in LA in the first period.”

The Wings were so inert shots were 27-2 after 20 minutes, en route to a 4-0 loss.

“We didn’t show up in the first there that game,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “You can’t go back and re-play that, just like you can’t go back and re-play the third period against Toronto, but you have to learn from it. I think we have learned and hopefully we’re continuing to learn. If you learn and get better, then it’s worth it.

“If not it’s just pain, and why would you just endure the pain without learning? I think our guys understand that and we’ve done a pretty good job of that.”

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Within the past week, the Wings  lost, 7-5, to the Blackhawks, after twice getting within a goal. Against the Maple Leafs, they had a 4-2 lead with 10 minutes to play. But the loss to Chicago was followed by a 3-2 shootout victory at Pittsburgh and the loss to Toronto was followed by a 2-1 overtime victory over Anaheim. 

“The way you learn from that is you try not to let it happen again,” Larkin said. “It’s all how you respond and our response after the Toronto game was really good and we played a great defensive game. As this season has gone on we’ve learned a lot. We’ve played good hockey and we’ve had times where we haven’t played good hockey and we’ve bounced back. You’re going to go through that in a long season.

“The last three games, we’ve really focused on ourselves and how we can influence the game, and that’s going to be huge against a good defensive team like L.A.”

Beyond banking four points is how the games against the Penguins and Ducks were won.

The Wings played tight defensively, made plays when possible and didn’t force anything. They scored just three regulation goals combined, but won because they did what Blashill sees former Wings assistant coach Todd McLellan and the Kings doing on a regular basis.

“This is what LA has done and Todd has done a good job with that group,” Blashill said. “They grind, they find ways to grind out low-scoring wins and once we learn that’s the best way for us to have long-term success, we’ll be a better team. We are going through the learning process, it just takes time and it takes time with young players.”

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. 

Next up: Kings

Matchup: Red Wings (20-20-6) vs. Los Angeles (23-16-7).

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; Little Caesars Arena, Detroit.

TV/radio: Bally Sports Detroit; WXYT-FM (97.1).

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