With the way the season is going, and with losses accumulating, you wouldn’t think the Red Wings are having a lot of fun these days.
After Sunday’s 5-2 loss in Ottawa, sinking the Wings deeper in this vortex of recent losing, captain Dylan Larkin confirmed it’s difficult currently.
“I look around and I don’t see a lot of joy, and see guys having fun,” Larkin said. “We need to change that and enjoy playing hockey.”
Of course, that would be easier if the Wings can find a way to string together some victories in these final 13 games and head into the off-season with a bit of positivity and momentum.
The Wings have only won three of their last 18 games (3-12-3), and dramatically fallen out of the playoff chase.
“In years past it’s gone the opposite way, we’ve played well at the end (of the season),” Larkin said. “This year it’s the opposite. We were right there (in the playoff chase) and then we just haven’t been playing well enough. Things have not been going our way and it’s frustrating, and it really hurts. We’re a young team and we have to remember how close we were, and what those games were like when we were four, six, eight points out of the playoffs.
“We have to find a way to string together wins.”
Not playing with the level of energy needed to compete in the NHL has been an issue, at times, during this slide. But Larkin has stated several times how important all these games are, and how they effect every player differently.
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“Everyone in our locker room is playing for something,” Larkin said. “There are roles on the team next year, contracts, you’re playing for a lot here. If that’s not enough, play for the love of the game and come out and enjoy the grind a bit and enjoying being in a one-goal game and playing the right way.”
The Wings are in a reversal of some of the teams they are facing this late in the season, Ottawa being a prime example.
The Senators fell out of the playoff chase several months ago, and went through losing streaks and knowing it would be an unsatisfying season from that perspective. But they have found some traction, are clearly playing with enthusiasm as the end of the season draws near, and are playing loose and effective hockey.
“Right now we’re beat mentally, and we have to fix that,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “WE have to climb out of it. We were in it for a long time and mentally, we’ve struggled once we kind of fell out of it and we have to get our energy back and find the enjoyment of the competition on a night to night basis.
“We have to find a way to get it back. We have to make sure we are playing at a level of energy and enjoyment and enjoy what we’re doing instead of grinding ourselves.”
The Wings had to kill four Ottawa penalties Sunday before the Wings got their first power play.
Josh Norris (Oxford/Michigan) broke a 1-1 tie with an Ottawa power play goal on its third opportunity, sending the Senators to a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Wings came out of the first period tied 1-1, and killed two penalties in the opening 20 minutes, something Larkin felt gave the Wings some momentum. But the pressure of playing shorthanded so much is a recipe for losing, and it eventually was.
“It’s hard a way to play,” Blashill said. “We’ve done a decent job of not taking penalties overall, but it’s a hard way to play. You don’t want to take those kind of penalties (hooking, high-sticking), that many, in the first half of the game.”
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Sam Gagner (non-COVID illness) was unavailable, along with Tyler Bertuzzi, who isn’t able to play in Canada of his unvaccinated COVID status.
So the Wings recalled Kyle Criscuolo (two hits, one block in 9 minutes, 50 seconds) and had Jordan Oesterle move from defense to forward.
…Goaltender Thomas Greiss started for the first time since March 24 on Long Island against the New York Islanders, where he left after two periods due to injury. Greiss stopped 31 of 34 Ottawa shots.
“Thomas played well, he battled and competed and did a good job,” Blashill said.
…The Wings had a third period opportunity to tie the game on the power play, but failed to generate prime scoring chances.
“We have to go over the boards and put something up, create something and create a goal there,” Larkin said. “We were right there, we didn’t create enough again, didn’t make it hard enough on their goalie. We get a power play late, we have to put something on the board. The power play wasn’t good enough the last two games.”
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