Wings notebook: Difficult Eastern stretch up next; 6-6 goalie Hellberg signed

Detroit News

Detroit — Here the Red Wings go again.

In another scheduling quirk, and playing in the Eastern Conference this season this quick can happen occasionally, the Wings play six consecutive games against playoff teams from the East.

It’s a gauntlet, for sure. Carolina, New York Rangers, Florida, Tampa, Florida again, and Pittsburgh.

It won’t be easy.

“We have to play some elite teams, but that’s part of playing in the NHL, you have to show up every day, be consistent and have the same work ethic and preparation no matter who you’re playing,” defenseman Marc Staal said.

The Wings had a similar stretch in late February/early March, playing seven similar teams, and went 2-5-0. It helped contribute to a lengthy Wings’ slump that eliminated any hopes of staying in the playoff chase.

The Wings are entering Thursday’s game in Carolina having lost games to non-playoff teams Columbus and Ottawa. For sure, they’ll have to play better defensively than they did in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to Ottawa.

“You want to play right way against every team, but certainly with the stretch we have coming up, we better be good defensively,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Get the puck out of our zone, especially (Thursday). If you spend extended shifts in your zone, you’re in trouble. You better do a good job getting the puck out and getting the puck in.

“Our defensive play will have to be better (than against Ottawa).”

‘Too many guys looking for offense’: Ottawa completes season sweep of Wings

The Wings likely are going to be all these playoffs teams playing hard, playing to win and earn two important points, and getting fine-tuned for the playoffs.

In all, a good atmosphere for the Wings’ youngest players, but also most everyone on the roster.

“It’s a good litmus test for all of them,” Blashill said. “Certainly it tests these younger players if they are ready to be impactful players on a good team. To do that, you have to beat good teams. We’ll see. It’s an every-night league. Some of our younger players were good for a couple of games and they weren’t as good (Tuesday).

“We have to make sure we’re good every single night. We’ll get tested.

“We’re going to play some teams with urgency, some teams that are getting ready to play at their next level. It’s a reminder for us for it takes to play winning hockey. We have to make sure we’re more efficient.”

Defensive slump

The Dylan Larkin line with Lucas Raymond and Tyler Bertuzzi were all minus-four in Tuesday’s loss against Ottawa, after Larkin and Bertuzzi were both minus-four in Saturday’s loss to Columbus while Raymond was minus-two in that defeat.

It’s a small sample size during a long season, but definitely a two-game stretch where the line struggled defensively.

“If they were sitting up here, they would say they have to play better individually, make sure they do a better job,” Blashill said. “They’ve worked hard at times but not necessarily been as sound defensively as they want to be, or I want them to be.”

Organizational depth

The Wings announced the signing of goaltender Magnus Hellberg to a one-year contract.

Hellberg, 31, spent this season with Sochi HC of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), posting a 2.42 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and five shutouts in 37 games.

Hellberg (6-foot-6, 209-pounds) has spent the last five seasons in the KHL recording an 81-64-14 record in 169 appearances. Hellberg represented Sweden at the 2022 Winter Olympics, appearing in two games and posting a 1-0-1 record.

Originally drafted by Nashville Predators in the second-round (38th overall) of the 2011 Entry Draft, Hellberg spent five seasons (2012-17) in North America before playing in the KHL. Hellberg has made four NHL appearances for the Predators and New York Rangers, recording a 1-0-0 record (2.70 GAA, .868 SVS).

Hellberg has an 84-71-28 record in the AHL, with 2.49 GAA and .914 SVS.

Ice chips

Larkin, Pius Suter and Oskar Sundqvist didn’t practice Wednesday, using it as a “maintenance day”. Blashill is confident all three will play against Carolina, but couldn’t say definitively.

…The Wings only 25 shots against Ottawa and passed up too many shots for Blashill’s preference.

“We definitely passed up opportunities where we had real looks,” Blashill said. “There’s lots of ways to create zone time. It’s more just putting the other team on their heels and making the goalie make saves, and the chaos that shots create. I don’t think we did enough of that. We passed up some real looks in the slot to try to make a better play and a better play is not there. Just shoot the puck in that situation.”

…Blashill had no timetable on a return for Givani Smith (undisclosed injury), who hasn’t played since March 22.

Twitter: @tkulfan

Red Wings at Hurricanes

► Faceoff: 7 p.m. Thursday, PNC Arena, Raleigh.

► TV/radio: ESPN+/Hulu/97.1 FM

► Outlook: The Hurricanes (48-18-8) are coming off an important 4-2 victory Tuesday over the New York Rangers to retain first place in the Metropolitan Division…C Sebastian Aho (34 goals, 75 points), RW Andrei Svechnikov (29 goals) and G Frederik Andersen (2.07 GAA, .926 SVS) are having outstanding seasons.

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