Why geography is only part of challenge as Detroit Red Wings take a run at the road

Detroit Free Press

After discussing how to handle the next stretch on their schedule, the Detroit Red Wings settled on making it all one trip: Five games, 10 days, two border crossings and two coasts.

The Wings scheduled their outgoing leg for 11:30 a.m. Sunday, in order to get to Vancouver, British Columbia, in time to watch Super Bowl 57. They play the Canucks on Monday, then travel east to Alberta to play the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday and Calgary Flames on Thursday, then fly west again, to Seattle, to play the Kraken on Saturday. The plan is to fly from Seattle to Washington on Sunday, ahead of playing the Capitals on Feb. 21.

“It’s unique but it’s all part of it,” coach Derek Lalonde said Saturday. “We thoroughly talked about it.”

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Road trips are part of the NHL season. The Wings’ longest one of the season, though, comes at a crucial time: They’ve won their past two games to improve to 23-20-8, edging within seven points of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race — albeit with three teams ahead of them.

“We’ve set goals and we need to get there,” Dylan Larkin said after his three-point performance in Saturday’s 5-2 victory over the Canucks. “We need some wins. We need a lot of wins. But there hasn’t been one guy that seems like they’re not into going for it, and that’s been very refreshing.”

The Wings haven’t won more than two games in a row since Thanksgiving. The Oilers, Flames, Kraken and Capitals are all either in the playoff picture, or within a point or so. If the Wings (who began this nascent winning streak by defeating the Flames) don’t string together victories on this trip, those goals Larkin mentioned are going to be all but extinguished.

“We’re flirting with this slightly over .500 most of the year and we’ve been unable to put a big string together,” Lalonde said. “I understand that, the way we’re built, what we are. We have to be good every night to win. It gives us an opportunity to build off something. This will be a really good road trip: four good teams and two we’ve just beat.”

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Lalonde likes the way the Wings have played the past couple weeks, and the past two games offered learning experiences in closing out games in which the Wings had third-period leads. Even Saturday, when they had a three-goal lead on the Canucks, there were stretches where the Wings looked nervous.

“I don’t think we handled it great,” Lalonde said. “A little sign of our immaturity. We were willing to put our body on the line to hold that lead, with the amount of blocked shots that we had, but we didn’t use our head very well with a few of those turnovers.”

It was this time of year last season when the Wings’ good work in the first half was tarnished by sloppy performances to finish the season. While reaching the playoffs for what would be the first time since 2016 remains unlikely, the Wings at least were able to pack renewed optimism as they left Detroit.

“The last two wins have been huge for our confidence,” Larkin said. “We just really need to bring it against Vancouver again and start the road trip off on the right foot and start getting that three, four, five wins in a row.”

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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