Detroit Red Wings: After embarrassment, team has to buckle down and find its pride

Detroit Free Press

It’s a chance for the current squad to show how quickly they can recover from their 2022 nadir.

The Wings (4-3-2) responded well the last time they were decimated by an opponent, but the Buffalo Sabres whittled away the Wings’ confidence till there was almost nothing left. How to explain the 8-3 loss that sent the Wings packing from KeyBank Center on Monday? Here’s what the team leader had to say.

“We didn’t show up,” Dylan Larkin said. “They showed up. No matter what level of hockey you play, you don’t show up, it’s going to be embarrassing. We have to find it, it meaning the pride. It was a one-goal game there in the third — like, let’s go. Let’s win battles. Let’s make it an even game. We just lost way too many battles.”

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To the Wings’ utter frustration and lamentation, they failed to build on Larkin’s shorthanded goal 4:19 into the third period. At that point, the most the Sabres had led by was two goals. Larkin made it 4-3 — and then the Wings self-destructed.

“For me, the two big momentum shifts were, we’re down 2-1 in the second and we had a couple really good shifts and then a broken play, give them easy offense, it’s 3-1,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “Then at 4-3, we’re in a pretty good spot, and we take a holding penalty 200 feet from our net, gives them the power play and they score. I would have loved to see how we could have handled the momentum if we got through that penalty kill. But we didn’t.”

Lalonde said the game felt “very Boston-like” referencing last week’s 5-1 loss to the Bruins in which the Wings let their opponent have too many man advantages. It was Joe Veleno who took the holding call, but the Wings also got into penalty trouble late in the second period, when Ben Chiarot landed in the box 59 seconds after Gustav Lindstrom. The Wings killed off the two-man Buffalo power play, but Tage Thompson scored the second of his three goals (and fourth of six points) during the remaining power play.

“I worry about the totality of the game,” Lalonde said. “It was 4-3 in the the third period, but we spent too much time in the box and we gave their high-end, elite skill easy offense.”

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The Wings were outshot 8-0 to start the third period, and 46-18 on the night.

“We lost every battle,” Larkin said. “We didn’t start on time. We didn’t do really anything. We skated all over the ice trying to pressure — it felt like we were skating nowhere all night. When we got to pucks, we were playing on the ends of our sticks and lost every battle.

“It’s concerning. Eight goals, I mean — what are we going to do? There’s opportunity here. The season is still young. We’ve showed we can be a good team. We need to show that we care more every night.”

Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic “was hung out to dry,” Andrew Copp said. “They make it 5-3, 6-3. You can’t let it go past that. It’s unacceptable.”

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The Wings next play Thursday, when they host the Washington Capitals on a night on which the 1997 Stanley Cup championship team will be celebrated with a pregame ceremony. The Wings responded to that 5-1 loss at Boston with what Lalonde said was their “best win yet,” a 2-1 performance against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. Michael Rasmussen will be back from a two-game suspension, but Oskar Sundqvist (upper body) is questionable and Tyler Bertuzzi (upper body) and Jakub Vrana (players assistance program) and Robby Fabbri (knee) aren’t close to returning.

“We have five of our top seven forwards out,” Lalonde said. “We cannot play soft and a light game. We have no chance. If we buckle down and we defend, that’s our chance.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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