Red Wings out to solve sluggish starts: ‘Be prepared to play’

Detroit News

Vancouver, British Columbia — The Red Wings haven’t been helping themselves lately with poor starts and falling behind early.

It’s all contributed to the recent six-game winless streak, and made life trying to win hockey games more difficult.

“Be prepared to play, simple as it sounds,” said defenseman Troy Stecher, as to what the Wings can do to reverse the trend. “You’re not really setting yourself up for success when you blink and you’re down 3-0 (as in Tuesday’s game, a 7-5 loss to the Edmonton Oilers). You’re always playing catchup. It’s obviously something we don’t want and like doing.”

In some of the losses, such as Tuesday’s in Edmonton, the Wings simply didn’t have the puck much early and were forced into defending. They allowed good scoring chances, making life difficult for goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Alex Nedeljkovic, both of whom have been struggling.

“Right now, the puck’s going in, it’s just the way it’s going,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We have to find a way to make sure that doesn’t happen and then you kind of expect to tilt the ice back.”

Blashill noted there isn’t one easy answer to cure the ills and magically produce good starts.

“The other night, we have a face-off in our own end and play defensive zone coverage for a while, and guys get tired and they scored. And they scored again. And again,” Blashill said. “We have to make sure we’re ready to play from the drop of the puck. But I can’t say our guys weren’t ready. We have to be sharper, and the more you can be on the attack in their end, the better.”

Especially away from Little Caesars Arena, the Wings need to produce a better offensive push early.

“We have to find a way the first five minutes of games on the road to make it hard, make it where nothing happens and get pucks deep,” Larkin said. “We haven’t been doing that. You see a team like (Edmonton), they just swarmed us. We were caught in our own zone for the first three minutes of the game.

“You can’t start hockey games like that.”

Getting the first goal, working from possessing a lead, would help. In hockey, especially, teams don’t want to be “chasing” the game and playing from behind.

“It’s a goal on the board and if things go the other way, you’re not chasing it,” Blashill said. “When you get down 3-0 you’re chasing it and you come back and make it 3-1, and go down 4-1 and you’re chasing it.

“So you’re not chasing it as much (with the lead), and it just allows you for room for error.”

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Stecher played his first four NHL seasons in his hometown of Vancouver, with the Canucks, before signing a freeagent contract with the Wings.

Stecher admitted playing his first game as a visitor, in Vancouver, was going to be strange.

“I spend my summers here and I’m from  here, so it’s always nice coming home and seeing family and friends, it’s exciting,” Stecher said. “Growing up and going to a lot of games here, having tons of memories, it’ll be different. (I’m) a little bit nervous, but I’m excited for the challenge.”

Stecher’s season was cut short in early November when he injured his wrist and required surgery. Stecher missed three months before returning to the lineup.

“At the beginning of the year you set some goals in the summer and what you want to work on come the season,” Stecher said. “Getting hurt right away wasn’t ideal. But it’s part of the business and I’ve been fortunate enough to be fairly healthy throughout my career.

“Facing some adversity is never a bad thing.”

With the trade deadline Monday, there has been speculation Stecher, an unrestricted free agent this summer, could be available as a rental veteran defenseman for a playoff-contending team.

Stecher has shown he’s healthy, and his competitiveness and versatile game could help certain teams.

But Stecher hasn’t listened to the rumors and isn’t concentrating on what might happen.

“We’re not in the Vancouver market, so we don’t hear it nearly as much,” Stecher said of the trade rumors. “I was hurt at the beginning of the year and my thoughts have been on getting healthy and play the best I can when I’m back in the lineup, so that’s been occupying my mind.

“I haven’t been thinking anything differently.”

Twitter: @tkulfan

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