Detroit — The schedule seemed odd from the start, even in the NHL.
Three games in four nights, then four days off.
Start. Play hard right away. Stop.
Heading into their game against the Coyotes Thursday, the Red Wings talked about improving their structure and offense, and being harder on the puck.
But giveaways — a hideous 12 for the game — continued to plague them, and they failed utterly in the faceoff circle, trailing 72 percent to 28 after two periods and 66-34 for the game.
Those are some distinctly “un-Red Wing-like” numbers.
Starting too infrequently with the puck and giving it away a lot are not two ingredients of winning hockey.
The bodies the Red Wings had hoped to put in front of the Coyotes’ goalie, to screen shots, seemed still not to be there. Indeed, the Coyotes did a much better job generating traffic, screening Jimmy Howard on two of the three goals scored when he was in the net.
Still, with a little better fortune, including Henrik Zetterberg banging one off a post just over a minute in, having been sent in alone by Pavel Datsyuk, and the top line barely failing to score despite generating ample chances, it could have been a different outcome.
It is tough to read much into the Red Wings’ season after four games.
Plainly, they remain a work in progress, just as they admitted they would be from the start, just as they were for much of last year, just as they are likely to remain for a while longer in October, as new players get used to a new team and new linemates.
But two weeks from now they will be a dozen games into the season, and this stretch of eight games in 15 days will decide whether they hit Nov. 1 as a leader in the Atlantic Divison and the Eastern Conference, or an also-ran at one of the earliest markers of the season.
The Wings are not playing poorly. But they certainly are not playing like the Red Wings, yet. Nor are they entirely up to the marker they put down at the end of last season. But the feeling is nothing we have seen so far is not amenable to some good hard work and fortitude, and that this can be straightened out this month.
Heading into the night, Mike Babcock was not sure exactly what he had. But he was certain what they needed to do.
“Well, I don’t know if rust is a concern,” he said, after the morning skate, speaking of the odd schedule.
“The big thing is taking advantage of when they give you a rest. Obviously, we would have liked not to play back to back. To have a practice day and then a day off and a practice day and then a day off, that’s just not the way the schedule works.
“So, we’ve had a chance to work on our game here and give the guys an opportunity to get fresh. We need to improve as a team.”
Games still count
Other than a goal from the third line, their first of the season, by Joakim Andersson, after a nice rush by Jakub Kindl, not much improved.
Certainly not enough.
The problem is well-identified.
“I just think the grind part of our game, being heavy in both zones, being harder,” as Babcock described it in the morning.
“We feel we played light in our first three games and gotta play way heavier.”
Five giveways in the first period, five more in the second and two in the third is still playing way too light on the puck.
My sense is the Red Wings are going to be fine, if good health prevails.
But they do not want to remain just so-so, for too long. And that is why some importance attaches to these games between now and Halloween.
Babcock will know what buttons to push, and with too many forwards hanging around — especially when and if Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves come off the long-term injured list — he can move bodies in and out of the lineup and hope that competition generates better play.
It is hard to argue that much of importance has happened, yet.
Halloween is a bit of another matter, and the game against the Flyers Saturday is the first of eight likely to tell us a whole lot more about the 2013-14 Red Wings.