Derek Lalonde: Detroit Red Wings’ growth will show in how they respond next game

Detroit Free Press

The challenge from their coach came shortly after the Detroit Red Wings didn’t measure up against one division rival, and involved another one.

The Wings host their fellow Atlantic Division squad, the Buffalo Sabres, on Wednesday, offering a chance to show a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs was a one-off, not the start of a slide.

“My message to the guys is, we are trying to improve and take steps and grow as a team,” Lalonde said after Monday’s contest at Little Caesars Arena. “A team taking a good step, or a good team, looks at tonight for what it was. We played pretty well. And you take it for that. You have a good practice and then you find a way to win on Wednesday.”

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The Wings (11-6-4) had been rolling along with a four-game winning streak; they were able to score first on the Leafs and finished with 44 shots. But Auston Matthews made it 1-1 on a rush chance from the slot and William Nylander converted on a power play to give Toronto a lead entering the second period. The dagger goal was Mitch Marner’s clean shot that hit Ville Husso in the chest and went in, in the first minute of the second. Husso was pulled after Rasmus Sandin scored on a shot from the point, and Alex Nedeljkovic finished the game.

“That was a tough one,” Dylan Larkin said. “You don’t want to see your goalie get pulled but Hus will be the first one to say that he would like a few of those back. He said it to us, and when Ned came in, I thought it gave us a little spark and he calmed things down. We’ve been relying a lot on Hus and a shot like that goes in, it is deflating but it happens. We just have to find a way next game, when that happens, to get the next one.”

The Wings could have been harder on Toronto’s defense, but while they weren’t able to pull within two goals until Adam Erne scored midway through the third period, it never deteriorated into a free-for-all like one of their matchups did last season, when the Wings went from trailing the Leafs, 6-1, to pulling within 7-6, only to lose, 10-7.

“We made some adjustments midway through the game and tried to pressure more all over the ice,” Larkin said. “I thought it helped and got us moving. We got a lot of shots, we got a lot of looks, just, it wasn’t going in. We played a good structure game. It felt like it was going to be like the one last year when pucks were going in and it’s madness and I kind of got a flashback to the 8-6, or whatever it was last year. But I think it shows how much more structured we are, that we fight and we play the right way to try and get a result.”

The Wings had a chance to make it 2-0 when they got a power play shortly after Moritz Seider opened the scoring, and Husso has made far more bailout saves than he has let in soft goals. When neither special teams nor goaltending has a good night, it’s tough to win, especially against an opponent with such elite skill.

“I liked our game,” Lalonde said. “Couple plays we left out there, couple missed plays, but to put it in perspective, their first shot on goal is halfway through the first and unfortunately it’s a 3-on-1 and Matthews from the inner slot. It’s just one of those nights, the puck just did not go our way. I thought our guys hung in there, I thought they played the right way for the most part.”

On to the Sabres (9-12-1), who the Wings owe a little payback after getting blown out, 8-3, in Buffalo on Halloween.

“A team that isn’t a winning team, or still finding themselves, you play poorly on Wednesday and now you’re on a two-game losing streak,” Lalonde said. “So I’m excited to see how this team is going to handle this.”

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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