Detroit Red Wings leading NHL in one nefarious category as season sinks

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings don’t have answers; soon they won’t have any more time.

They sound as frustrated as they’ve looked as a losing streak has grown to six games and the promise they showed during the first half has become a distant memory.

“It really hurts,” captain Dylan Larkin said after Sunday’s 5-2 loss at Ottawa, which came two nights after losing by the same score to the same team in Detroit. The Senators sit below the Wings in standings, which doesn’t lend encouragement as the Wings face Boston on Tuesday, and then go to Winnipeg Wednesday. The Bruins are jockeying for playoff positioning, and the Jets are fighting for a wild-card spot.

“The guys are frustrated,” Larkin said. “It hasn’t gone the way any of us wanted it to go since even before the trade deadline. We’ve had the hardest schedule. It’s frustrating as it can be. We were the closest we’ve been in a couple years, we play well at home, and then we’ve really just fallen off. It is frustrating.

“We have to get something positive here to end the season on. We can’t go into the summer like this and then into next year. We’ve got to find to get something positive.”

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The Wings (26-34-9) are fighting to redeem themselves before their season ends April 29. On Feb. 13, they were 22–21–6 and — though the standings were skewed by a disparity in games played — six points from a wild-card spot. Since then, they’ve gone 4-13-3.

“We have to understand that we’re in the spot we’re in,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Things in life can be way worse than what we’re going through, let’s go out and enjoy playing the game of hockey, and that’s what we’re trying to get across to our guys.

“There’s no doubt that right now, we’re beat down mentally. That’s not an excuse. We have to fix that. But that’s the reality of it. We have to climb our way out of it. Some of these teams, like Ottawa, they were out of it a long time ago, now they’re just having fun playing hockey. We were in it for a long time, and mentally we’ve struggled once we dropped out of it, to get our energy back and find that enjoyment of the competition.”

Larkin made it a 3-2 game with 7:25 to play. As the Wings have done so many times this season, they pulled their goalie (Thomas Greiss this time) for an extra attacker, only to see the puck go in their net. It happened twice Sunday, making for 26 empty-net goals allowed, highest in the NHL.

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The Senators’ second goal, by Anton Zub, looked like a harmless shot that Greiss saw coming, but it went in through the five-hole. Both Greiss (who otherwise had a good outing) and Alex Nedeljkovic have struggled in recent weeks, and the Wings don’t have the offense to mask patchy goaltending. What little depth they had took a hit when Robby Fabbri was lost to a knee injury the game after Jakub Vrana was gained after missing the first 56 games recovering from shoulder surgery. But even when they had good goaltending and scored, such as in March 30’s game against the Rangers, the Wings lost, 5-4, in overtime. It’s wearisome, and it doesn’t reflect well on the players or the coaching staff. The only benefit can be for the future.

“We’re a young team,” Larkin said. “We’ve got to remember how close we were and what those games were like when we’re six points out of the playoffs — we’ve got to find a way to string together wins. Hopefully we can take a lesson out of that.

“Everyone in our locker room is playing for something. There’s roles on the team next year, there’s contracts — you’re playing for a lot here. If that’s not enough, you have to play for the love of the game and come out and enjoy it, enjoy the grind a bit, enjoy being in a one-goal game and playing the right way. I look around, and I don’t see a lot of joy. I don’t see a lot of guys having fun. We need to change that and enjoy playing hockey.”

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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