Red Wings head into western trip knowing they must play ‘exact’ to be successful

Detroit News

Detroit — One thing coach Derek Lalonde has shown in his first month as Red Wings head coach is blunt honesty.

Lalonde has been direct in his answers, being truthful and transparent.

After the Wings collapsed Thursday, allowing six third-period goals in an 8-2 loss to the New York Rangers, Lalonde was bluntly honest about how these things will happen to the Wings if they aren’t playing at peak efficiency.

“It proves that if we are not exact, if we are not at the top of our game, we’re just not good enough,” Lalonde said. “I don’t say that in a bad way. Our guys know that. We’ve shown when we’re at the top of our game, we can play with anyone. (But) you take it off just a little bit, against deep skill, and it just looks like that.”

The Wings went into Thursday’s game on a three-game win streak, having defeated three quality Eastern Conference teams late last week in Washington, the New York Islanders and Rangers.

The Wings’ 7-4-3 record remains a pleasant surprise and speaks to the improved depth, goaltending and special teams of this roster. Lalonde has talked often, also, about how much this roster cares.

But, overall, the Wings know they are still far from being a complete team.

“This has been a willing group,” Lalonde said. “I wouldn’t go as far as an overachieving group with the start we’ve had, but we’re not ‘there’ with our team. Which is fine. The guys have accepted that, they know it, we have to be exact at our very best. I’m not going to say perfect, but we’ve got to be exact to be successful.”

The talent level, though definitely improved, isn’t top tier just yet.

“No one is going to shy away from that. There’s a reason we were projected to be a non-playoff team,” Lalonde said. “That’s where we’re at, but with that said, when this team plays the right way, we’re fine. We know how to play the right way.

“But we take it off just at the slightest, and it can pile up.”

The ugly loss to the Rangers was eerily similar to a third-period breakdown recently in Buffalo, where the Wings let a close game disintegrate into an 8-3 loss on Halloween night. The Wings quickly turned that into that three-game win streak, a sign of a lesson learned.

The Wings are hopeful that happens again as they embark on a four-game road trip that’ll take nine days before returning home.

“It stings, but we have a lot of games right now and we’re going on the road for a week and a half, and we have to (flush Thursday’s loss),” captain Dylan Larkin said. “We did a great job with it (after) Buffalo. That one stung, and guys were (angry) but you just have to forget about it. We have to figure it out from within.

“It could be good for the team (to get on the road).”

The road hasn’t been particularly kind to the Wings thus far. They are only 2-2-1 (only five road games, compared to nine games at Little Caesars Arena) but this trip holds much promise.

Saturday in Los Angeles and the nine-win Kings will be a test, but games in Anaheim (4-9-1), San Jose (3-9-3) and Columbus (4-9-0) are against three of the four lowest teams in the NHL overall standings.

Earning anything less than six out of eight possible points on this trip, arguably, would be disappointing.

“We haven’t been good enough on the road,” Larkin said. “We have a long trip, so we have to find something, and this (Thursday’s loss) is a wake-up call for us. We responded well the last time (after the Buffalo loss). Hopefully, we get some bodies back (Tyler Bertuzzi, Elmer Soderblom and Jake Walman are expected to return) and we need to jell.

“There are points available on this trip. We have to find some excitement for the opportunity we have on this road trip.”

Thursday’s game was the fifth in eight days for the Wings, and Lalonde saw some fatigue. But this road trip could be a chance to change the collective mindset, and again dispose of another discouraging defeat.

“A reset,” Lalonde said of the road trip. “We looked tired. I could feel it in practice (Wednesday), and even through two periods (against the Rangers), at 2-2, we didn’t really have the same pop we’ve had through the last couple of games. So, it’s a huge reset and we’ll get out there and play another good team on Saturday.”

Berggren staying

Forward Jonatan Berggren made a positive impression Thursday in his NHL debut, and he will remain with the Wings on the road trip.

Berggren made a nice pass to set up Joe Veleno for Veleno’s first-period goal, the assist earning Berggren his first NHL point.

Berggren played more than 14 minutes and showed glimpses of his potential, on a line with Veleno and Austin Czarnik, arguably one of the Wings’ best lines against the Rangers.

“I liked Berggren, he skated,” Lalonde said. “We didn’t have a lot of pop and energy as a group. He did and created some offense. That line was good. It got hemmed in a couple of times, but for a first NHL game, he had puck possession and looked comfortable.”

Red Wings at Kings

▶ Faceoff: 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Arena, Los Angeles

▶ TV/radio: BSD/97.1

▶ Outlook: The Kings (9-6-1) close out a four-game homestand, having won the three previous games. The Kings defeated the Wings, 5-4, in overtime last month. RW Gabriel Vilardi, an injury-riddled 2017 first-round draft pick, has rewarded the Kings’ patience with 11 goals already this season. G Jonathan Quick (6-4-1, 2.83 GAA, .904 SVS) is getting the bulk of the work in net.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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