The Detroit Red Wings emerged from the weekend encouraged by a couple of performances at home, and with the hope they will soon be in better shape.
Good results continued to elude them as the winless streak grew to six, but for a team as battered as the Wings, even small positives add up. They at least looked respectable on power plays in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers at Little Caesars Arena, and did a much better job getting pucks deep and pressuring the Panthers’ defense. For a team that slunk home from an 0-3-1 trip, it’s something to build on as they head on the road again.
“We played better hockey over the course of these two games than we did the second night in Dallas and the second night in Chicago, but at some point we have to find ways to win.,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We have to find a way to win these close games. These are the games I’ve talked about that we have to be in in order to be successful. We are not going to win games 5-1, so we have to find ways to win these close games.”
That effort will get a boost as five players are expected to exit from COVID-19 protocol in the coming days. Blashill said Robby Fabbri and Adam Erne, who have not played since the first two games of the season, should be available to practice Tuesday. (Monday is a day off.) Sam Gagner and Jon Merrill may also be available for Wednesday’s game against defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay. Filip Zadina is expected to be available for Friday’s game.
The Wings came into the season feeling good about having two scoring lines, but that took a hit when second-liners Fabbri and Zadina became unavailable.
The Wings were in good shape after Sunday’s first period thanks to an energetic, physical start and a goal from Dylan Larkin. For a team that had gone 0-for-11 on power plays the previous two games, to see the units even create scoring chances on two advantages was a stark difference.
“The power play looked good,” Blashill said. “If you can have those power plays consistently, you are going to score. Our zone entries were really good. We had opportunities to score. That’s what you want.”
Larkin said the difference was, “we just went out and played. We had a great start to the game. In terms of the power play, it was less thinking, and we did a great job on entries. We just have to capitalize and get a little hungrier around the net.”
The Wings are 4-for-34 on power plays, but they’ve also had tough times killing penalties. The Panthers gained momentum on two power plays in the second period, banking goals while Michael Rasmussen and Darren Helm, respectively, cooled off in the penalty box.
“We have to be disciplined,” Larkin said. “We have to be hard to play against but we can’t cross over that line and take bad penalties and penalties away from our net and needless mistakes.
“We have to figure out a way to get through this slump on the penalty kill and I know we will.”
Rasmussen was called for boarding MacKenzie Weegar, and then pushed back when Aaron Ekblad retaliated. Helm was called for slashing Anton Stralman.
“Ras was trying to be physical, trying to bring that element to this game,” Blashill said. “I think he’s been told by everybody in the organization that that is an important part of what he can bring to the table. He caught the guy as he’s turning and took a penalty. With Helmer, we have to keep our sticks on the ice. That’s something we’ve talked about — those are easy penalties to eliminate. We want to take as few penalties as possible while still playing hard.”
After Tampa, the Wings play at Florida and Nashville. It was a brief respite at home, but the Wings looked better than their first road trip, and regaining much-missed teammates should help on the second trip.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.