The Detroit Red Wings headed to California weighed with the baggage of a setback performance.
Saturday’s game at the Los Angeles Kings was framed as an opportunity to “flush” the bad feelings that came with an 8-2 collapse at home against the New York Rangers.
“The sour taste in your mouth — you’ve got to feel that,” captain Dylan Larkin said minutes after Thursday’s game at Little Caesars Arena ended. He was the only player to speak to reporters afterward. “We have to be ready for L.A. and that’s a tough place to play, but we have to come out with a gutsy effort, similar to how we responded after the Buffalo game.”
The Buffalo game was an 8-3 loss on OCt. 31, which came the week after a 5-1 loss at the Boston Bruins. In all three games, the Wings were in it until they melted down in the third periods. They stopped managing the puck, and when they let in one, another and another and another soon followed.
It’s those performances coach Derek Lalonde has had in mind when he has cautioned against reading too much into the Wings’ 7-4-3 start.
“This has been a ‘will’ group — I wouldn’t go as far as an overachieving group — with the start we’ve had, but we’re not there with our team,” Lalonde said. “Which is fine, I think the guys accept it, they know it. We have to be exact at our very best to be successful and when we’re not, there’s nights you’re going to look like that.
“There’s a reason we were projected to be a non-playoff team. But with that said, when this team plays the right way, we’re fine. We know how to play the right way, it’s just we take it off just the slightest, it can pile up. Another lesson going forward.”
The Wings lost 5-4 in overtime when they played the Kings in October, and lost, 4-0, in L.A. last season. This season’s Wings have looked, on the whole, significantly better than last season’s squad, but the rout by the Rangers had a familiar feeling.
“It’s hard to have the same conversation,” Larkin said. “After the Buffalo game, things have been going well. I don’t want to make excuses for us and blame everything on one thing — we’ve got pretty much a new team in there and it’s hard. But you have to find a way to come with something and I thought we had it for 45 minutes. We can’t have lapses like that.
“We’re right there. It’s 2-2 and the first five minutes of the third is OK and they get a goal from the blue line. It’s a shot we’ve blocked all year. It gets through, and then they just kept scoring. And that’s the frustrating part — that’s twice, even Boston on the road, where when that happens, we shut down big time.”
The Wings bounced back from the Boston and Buffalo games with wins, but both of those came at home, where they’re 5-2-2. They’ve only won twice on the road, making for a challenging reset. One positive is that Tyler Bertuzzi, who hasn’t played since breaking a hand in the second game of the season, is projected to return during the trip, which goes from L.A. to Anaheim to San Jose to Columbus.
“We haven’t been good enough on the road and we have a long trip, so we have to find something,” Larkin said. “This is a wakeup call for us, and we responded well the last time.
“We did a great job with it (after) Buffalo — that one stung, guys were pissed off, but you just have to forget about it. We’ve got hopefully some guys coming back on the trip but we’ve got to figure it our from within. I’m excited to get on the road and hopefully get a different feel. I think it could be good for the team.”
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.