Stretch vs. NHL’s best exposes Red Wings’ inconsistency

Detroit News

Detroit — It was a quirk in the schedule — not often possible, but one that occurred and was expected to sting the Red Wings.

And, it did.

When the Wings began this last stretch of seven games, they were about to play seven of the top eight teams in the overall NHL standings. Since then, Minnesota has dropped some rungs. But the Wild were right up there when the Wings opened this segment Feb. 14 in Minnesota.

And, the Wings lost, which they did five of the seven games, capped by Saturday’s 6-2 defeat in Florida.

The only two victories were a shootout win against the New York Rangers, and an overtime victory over Carolina.

Other than that, there were losses of varying kinds, but losses that, ultimately, showed the Wings are still a ways from that level of the NHL.

“We have work to do to be among those types of teams,” coach Jeff Blashill said after Saturday’s disappointing loss to the Panthers. “Most good teams, you defend well, you don’t give up easy chances, you defend the middle of the ice and put pressure on the other teams. We go in spurts of doing that. We have to work extraordinarily hard and compete extraordinarily hard to have success against those sorts of teams.

“There have been moments in the seven games we done that and more we haven’t. ”

Maybe it was schedule catching up to the Wings a bit, but some of it simply because it was the offensively explosive Panthers. But, the Wings looked a bit spent Saturday, and after allowing a pair of power-play goals leading in part of a 3-1 deficit after the first period, and falling behind 6-1 after 40 minutes, the Wings’ compete level suffered as well.

“I felt like as it went along, our competition level disappeared and that simply can’t happen with our hockey team,” Blashill said

As Blashill noted, there were parts of the Wings’ game that sparkled during some of these seven games.

The Wings were really good defensively against the Rangers, Carolina, and part of the Colorado game. But they weren’t at all against Toronto and Florida, and parts of other losses.

They were dangerous offensively in certain games, but silent in others. The goaltending was largely hit and miss.

As a group, the consistency wasn’t there, and hasn’t been there for much of the season, probably a byproduct of a younger team that continues to learn how to win in the NHL.

You have to figure once the Wings learn how to bring that overall consistency over more through an 82-game schedule, more victories will follow.

“We have to find consistency in our game,” forward Sam Gagner said. “We had it for stretches of this seven-game stretch. We played well, we played great against Carolina, but we have to build off those good games and find ways to be consistent with it, be an every night team.

“It’s a tough league and you play against good teams all year. We have to keep finding ways to build and get better.”

In the loss to the Panthers, just way too many areas of the Wings’ overall game were substandard.

“You have to do it every day, it has to be through your lineup and we certainly have room to grow,” Gagner said. “Nights like (Saturday), they are tough games and you don’t want them to happen, and we have to find ways to just be better in a lot of different areas.

“We have a chance to redeem ourselves next game (Tuesday, home against Arizona) and we have to be ready for it.”

The playoffs were a splendid rabbit for the Wings to chase, a carrot that appeared somewhat reachable even a few weeks ago.

On Sunday morning, the Wings were 15 points away from Washington, who held the second and final wild-card spot. With only 26 games left on the schedule, the playoffs look very much like a pipe dream.

And that’s fine, but there are specific areas of the Wings’ game that need to be tended to and fixed to make these final weeks bearable and improved.

Foremost, the penalty kill.

After a miserable week, highlighted by allowing five Tampa Bay and Florida power-play goals in the two-game road trip, the Wings entered Sunday’s games ranked 30th (out of 32 teams) on the penalty kill at 73.9%.

“Our PK is struggling right now and we have to stop the bleeding here,” Blashill said. “It’s going to have to happen kind of one kill at a time. We have to hunker in Monday (at practice) and go to work and find a way to be better on it.”

There’s plenty of season left for the Wings to take what they learned in these last seven games and apply it.

“We can’t be deflated or frustrated,” Gagner said. “We have to find ways to improve. We’re trying to building here and we’ve had stretches where things have gone real well and we have to find that consistency. You take lessons from games like this (Saturday) and try to build, and hopefully be better next game.”

Twitter: @tkulfan

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