Red Wings faced with brisk, busy end to regular-season schedule

Detroit News

Detroit — The Red Wings are going to play a lot of hockey until the NHL regular season ends on April 29.

Beginning with Tuesday’s game against Ottawa, the Wings will play 10 games in the final 18 days, a brisk pace that would test any team.

Finding that balance between rest and energy to be ready to play will be crucial.

“We have a lot of games against some highly explosive teams,” said coach Jeff Blashill, noting the difficulty of the schedule, with seven of the 10 games against playoff teams. “We’re going to have to have great energy. It will be tested and we have to make sure we have that balance.

“If our structure isn’t good, then we’re not going to have enough success. And if our energy isn’t any good, we won’t have success. So we’re going to have to have that balance.

“We, like a lot of teams, have a lot of tests in front of us. Every team goes through different stretches and this will be a whirlwind stretch.”

This late in the season — really, any part of the season — players generally prefer to play games rather than practice. That could be in the NHL, college, junior, or youth level of hockey.

Games are what players want to participate in, which will make this dizzying stretch a little more bearable.

“Players get to this point in the game and they’d rather play than practice, that’s the reality,” Blashill said. “Whether that’s right or wrong is up to debate, but 99.9% of the guys would rather play. The games are what they certainly get up for and what they get excited about.

“Hopefully that helps. You’d like to have that perfect balance in your schedule where you get a little bit of both (playing and practice). But the reality is, you’re not going to.”

This NHL regular season has been unique in many ways and has presented all 32 teams with unforeseen challenges.

There was a three-week break built in during February for the NHL’s participation in the Winter Olympics.

But an aggressive COVID-19 outbreak in November and December postponed a large number of games. It forced the NHL to look toward that three-week window as a place to play those games and cancel any Olympic participation.

But regardless of that situation, the original schedule made for a busy slate around that three-week segment in February and forced a particularly busy end to the schedule for many teams.

“There were some unique challenges this year that we’ve faced, and the league,” said Blashill, noting the Olympic break. “That didn’t happen, and ultimately we have a number of COVID cancellations and it made everyone’s schedule a little bit different and presented some unique challenges.

“The NHL schedule is always unique and is different than any other league. This year has been that much more because of the challenges we’ve faced. We had stretches when we didn’t play at all and practiced a bunch, and stretches like this where it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.

“But every team has faced it and you have to maximize those challenges.”

On the upswing

The Wings and Pistons are finishing promising seasons, with obvious development. The Tigers have just started their schedule, with excitement over an apparently improved roster.

The Lions have the NFL Draft upcoming and the potential for better days ahead.

It’s a good time to be a sports fan in Detroit.

“The potential to be great,” Blashill said of the immediate future of the four pro sports organizations. “Each organization has to continue to do lots of work, we all have lots of work ahead of us, but I do think each organization can point to a direction we all think we’re headed.

“It would be cool if ultimately the four major sports teams all have great success at the same time.”

Each of the four teams pretty much entered a rebuilding phase at generally the same time. What each of the four showed is rebuilds can’t be done quickly.

“It does take time,” Blashill said. “The organizations have done a good job of doing it the right way and hopefully we can all have success at the same time.”

Twitter: @tkulfan

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