Why ‘worst game of the year’ was a morale booster for Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

Derek Lalonde described it as, “maybe our worst game of the year.”

The Detroit Red Wings wanted to flip the tight games they had been losing over the past week, and instead ended up getting into a scoring race — one they want to avoid when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday. But correcting things after a win is a better prospect than correcting things after a loss, and as Moritz Seider is fond of saying, the Wings “had a smile on our face” after topping the Winnipeg Jets, 7-5, Tuesday at Little Caesars Arena.

“I’m taken aback with how poorly we played, with how well we’ve played of late, as crazy as it sounds, without getting results,” Lalonde said. “Bottom line is, we were looking to find a win. We did that. We had some hard-area goals. But as much as we have stayed positive through some of these losses when playing fairly well — I think our guys do a pretty good job of judging ourselves. I’d be hard pressed to find a game we played more poorer on the year.

“We needed this, morale wise, but we weren’t good.”

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At no point did it feel like the Wings had the two points in the bank, because they mismanaged the puck so much the Jets got one glorious scoring chance after another, and it was a one-goal game with five minutes to play. Jake Walman, Jonatan Berggren and Oskar Sundqvist scored in the first period, and Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Larkin in the second. Robby Fabbri scored early in the third period, but it wasn’t until Lucas Raymond added an empty-net goal with 1:20 to play that the Wings could exhale and know their three-game losing streak was going to end.

“We knew this was a big game for us to win,” Raymond said. “It felt really good walking away from here with a win. We didn’t play our best game. We’ve lost games where we played a lot better, so to get a win when we are not at our top performance was huge. We will try to build off of this.”

The Wings had been playing well five-on-five, but special teams let them down in the three straight regulation losses. They won the special teams battle against the Jets (Larkin’s goal was on a power play, and Sundqvist scored seconds after one expired), and goaltending — well, Ville Husso’s save percentage (.865) wasn’t pretty, but he faced a gobsmacking amount of Grade-A chances.

“There are maybe a couple he wants back,” Lalonde said, “but it was the volume of quality saves, and the volume of timely saves — I’m honestly, I have to relax a little bit, we won a hockey game and we always say, it’s so hard to win in this league, never take away from winning, but I’m taken aback a little bit with our performance. We will regroup and be better on Thursday. We are going to have to be better on Thursday.

“It never felt comfortable. Never felt comfortable because of the way we were playing. We were slow, we were tired. We looked that. Mental mistakes, tired mistakes. I like that we scored and we won the game, but it may be our worst game of the year.”

The Wings have taken strides in team defense this season, though that wasn’t in evidence against the Jets. But after scoring just four goals during the skid, celebrating seven times was fun — especially for the guy who tied a franchise record for a defenseman with four assists in one game.

“It was not our best, but we will turn the page and look at the result with a big smile on our face,” Seider said. “It was a big win for us.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. 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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