Why the Detroit Red Wings are searching for ‘B’ game during late-season struggles

Detroit Free Press

The mental and physical grind of the season appears to be wearying the Detroit Red Wings as they make their way across western Canada.

They have time to recover before Tuesday’s game vs. the Edmonton Oilers, after being shutout, 3-0, Saturday by the Flames in Calgary. The Wings spent the majority of the first two periods in their own end, and though Thomas Greiss kept it a one-goal deficit until midway through the third period, it was too late for a team depleted by the absences of Robby Fabbri (knee) and Tyler Bertuzzi (unvaccinated) to recover.

“When you’re without Bert and without Fabs, other guys have to step up,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “It’s a hard league and you have to be great every night. To be a really good player, you have to show up every night. Guys have to play better. Our top guys have to play better but our other guys have to play better. There’s opportunity there, more ice time, all those things.”

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Blashill said after the game that too many players “had no jump. We had guys that probably didn’t battle hard enough at times.” 

The Wings (24-28-7) have tumbled in the standings since being within six points of a wild-card spot a month ago. Their goaltending went through a shaky stretch, exacerbated by poor defensive play and a sputtering offense. The flicker of hope of making the playoffs, unlikely as it was, has been all but extinguished, but that doesn’t excuse cratering over the remaining seven weeks.

“You better mentally find a way to grind,” Blashill said. “We have 20-some games left. We have to show up every night and play great hockey. You never get these games back. I don’t care what our last little bit’s been, you can’t not play your A-game on a nightly basis — and if you don’t have your ‘A,’ have your ‘B.’

“Is there a mental grind to it? For sure there is. Is there a mental wear on you when you’ve gone through a tough stretch and you’re looking up in the standings? For sure there is. Is that an excuse? No chance. We have to be way more mentally tough than that.”

Already down two top-six wingers, there isn’t much maneuverability for benching as an avenue of accountability.

“One of the best tools is ice time, but right now we’re super-depleted from a roster standpoint, so it gets a little bit harder,” Blashill said. “But we’ll make roster decisions as we head into the next game.”

Confidence is a fragile intangible, and after being beaten, 9-2, at home Tuesday by the Arizona Coyotes, a team near the bottom of the standings, the Wings have struggled to recover. They responded well in their next game when the Minnesota Wild scored a minute in, but they took two periods to get going in Calgary.

Against the Oilers, led by two of the NHL’s top scorers in Connor McDavid (83 points in 58 games) and Leon Draisatl (81 points in 59 games), the Wings are going to get chased out of Edmonton if they don’t show up as a team. All they need to do is look at the third period in Calgary for an example of competitive play.

“We did a better job of playing fast,” Sam Gagner said. “We talked about trying to play faster out of our own end and everybody push the pace. We did a better job of that in the third and it’s what allowed us to create some chances and sustain some O-zone time.”

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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