Detroit Red Wings ‘earning respect,’ but need to beat Washington to earn more smiles

Detroit Free Press

On to the next stop: West Coast to East Coast, with a brief stop to refuel.

The Detroit Red Wings are eying Tuesday’s contest against the Capitals in Washington with a great deal of anticipation, and not just because it marks the end of a what has been a long and geographically demanding trip.

The Wings are, as their captain put it, “earning respect,” as they have risen in the standings, edging within grasp of a playoff spot. The drive toward the wild-card range took a hit with Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Kraken in Seattle, but while that disappointed, there’s a sense within the locker room that at least the Wings know they have a winning streak in them.

“We’re not going to win the last 20-25 games; we’re not going 25-0,” Larkin said after the game at Climate Pledge Arena. “We’re going to lose, but we need to bounce back, and there’s no better opportunity than Washington, a team we’re trying to catch. We have that game marked.”

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The Capitals are among three teams sitting between the Wings and a pair of teams — the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins, tied at 63 points — occupying the two wild-card berths in the race for the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Wings (26-21-8) just spun together a five-game winning streak, and their coach blamed a lack of execution for not growing it to six.

“The way we won in those games, we had great compete, great special teams,” Derek Lalonde said. “To me, the real challenge is, (Saturday] was an average game, an average performance. If we want to stay in this and keep pushing in this, you need a bounce-back game from this. You can’t let games pile up on you. So, great opportunity Tuesday in Washington.”

The Wings’ schedule called for a Sunday morning departure from Seattle, stopping in Minnesota to refuel, and getting into Washington in the evening. Their next practice comes Monday, when they should have a better feel for when Lucas Raymond will be available. A lower-body injury forced him to sit out the past five games; he has been joined in the press box for the past three by Jakub Vrana, called up from the minors but unable to crack what had been a winning lineup.

The Wings’ haven’t “had this luxury in a while,” Lalonde said, referring to having more options than lineup spots. Lalonde isn’t likely to change having Larkin and Bertuzzi on the top line together, as they have 18 points over the past six games, but the fourth line — Pius Suter, Filip Zadina and Oskar Sundqvist — also has stood out for its ability to generate scoring chances, which yielded a goal against the Kraken.

“That line has given us momentum,” Lalonde said. “I think that’s why we’ve had some success, we’ve had all four lines going. That’s a perfect example — when you can just keep rolling over lines, keep everyone fresh. I mean, we’re down 1-0, and full confidence in putting that line out for the last shift of the period, and they scored. They’ve been a positive, for sure.”

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The Wings haven’t advanced to the playoffs since 2016. A year ago, late February brought a crash from playoff hopefuls to lottery watchers. Saturday’s game in Seattle was a setback, but it will only be a slight blemish if the Wings begin adding to the victories they collected in their three Western Canada games that began the trek.

“Guys are buying in,” Larkin said. “Guys are playing with confidence, we’re getting scoring depth and our special teams have been winning us games.  I think we’re gaining respect, or we are earning respect.

“This trip has been a ton of fun, a lot of smiles. We’re very disappointed in [Saturday], but we can’t win them all. We are going to have bounce back and finish off this road trip on a positive note and with a record that we would take every time on this road trip.”

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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