As the Detroit Red Wings enter the second half of the season, they do so with an urgency to prove something.
They begin a three-game trip Monday at the Colorado Avalanche, who are trying to ensure they return to the playoffs to defend the Stanley Cup they hoisted last spring. It’s as good a challenge as the Wings will have, but as this past week has shown, the Wings really only have one avenue to success.
“I don’t care if we’re playing the No. 1 team in the league, the No. 32 team in the league — we have to have a high compete and execution level,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “We have the capability, we’ve flirted with it, but we have to be so ‘on’ all the time. It’s where we are at.”
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The Wings (18-16-7) are back to where they have been half a dozen times before this season: Trying to start a winning streak. They made a game of it against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Saturday’s third period, but spotting an opponent four goals is a hard way to play, and their rally fell a goal short.
“We’ve been talking about it, getting on a run and stringing some wins together and [Saturday] happens and it’s frustrating,” Dylan Larkin said. “That’s kind of been the story this season: We win two or three and then we can’t find the fourth and fifth. We need to find that and we’re trying.
“We care, and care about trying to turn this around, trying to make the playoffs. It’s talked about in our locker room and we care about that and trying to make a strong push here before the trade deadline.”
Twenty games stand between the Wings and the March 3 trade deadline. Most immediately, they have a matinee against the Avalanche, play again the next night at the Arizona Coyotes — a team that, like the Blue Jackets, is near the bottom of the NHL standings — and wrap up the trip Thursday against the Vegas Golden Knights, who are battling for first place in the Western Conference.
“It’s always an exciting game in Colorado with a lot of Detroit fans there,” Larkin said. “I’m sure with them winning the Stanley Cup last year, I expect it to be a good atmosphere. We need to be ready to go. It’s always a difficult first 20 minutes in that building with the travel and the altitude and the way they play, but we are going to have to find a great road effort.”
Lalonde said Sunday he hadn’t decided who would start at Colorado, but the plan is for goaltenders Ville Husso and Magnus Hellberg to split the back-to-back outings. The bigger focus is on the skaters, who over the past three games have shown how much — and how little — they can help their goaltender. The Wings played their worst game of the season Jan. 10 against Winnipeg, but managed to outscore their mistakes against the Jets. They then played outstanding in a 4-1 victory Jan. 12 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but followed that, as Larkin put it, with “no energy,” for the first two periods against the Blue Jackets. It has left the Wings squarely trying to prove that they are learning by putting an end to poor efforts.
“We’ve had these ups and downs,” Lalonde said. “Our compete was at a high, high level for four of the last six periods. It wasn’t there for two periods and it’s disappointing, maybe, but it’s where we are at. We have to have high compete, limit mistakes.”
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.