October 23, 2013 at 1:00 am

Gregg Krupa

Loss to Senators is a down night in Red Wings' inconsistent start

Detroit — If it all feels a bit like two steps forward, one step back, it is.

But, remember, that was to be expected.

The Red Wings came up with one of their lesser games of the season against the Senators Wednesday, losing 6-1 after looking stellar against the Sharks Monday, albeit in a losing effort.

That was after playing lousy against the Coyotes in the third period Saturday, after looking pretty good against the Coyotes in the first period, and ...

Well, you get the picture.

“The other night, we played really well and paid really good attention to details,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said of the team’s effort against San Jose. “It just seemed like we were a step behind, all night long.”

On Monday, playing without their top two defensemen, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, they held a red-hot offensive Sharks scoreless through regulation and overtime.

On Wednesday, it seemed they were allowing the lukewarm Senators to score at will.

For the Red Wings, consistency is a goal far from accomplished. And this might continue for a while, up-and-down, back-and-forth, in-and-out, good-and-bad, until the roster finally settles in.

If the 6-2 start looked a whole lot better than the 6-4-1 it has become, it should remind us only that the Wings are enduring a process.

They remain a team in transition, and impatience with that on Oct. 24 will make for a long winter.

“As much as we got off to a fairly good start, we’re a team, I think, in flux,” Mike Babcock said Tuesday morning, after the 1-0 shootout loss to San Jose.

“We’re trying to find out who we are and how we’re going to play to be successful, and that’s still a work in progress.”

Defensemen struggle

What did not progress Wednesday was the ability of their young defensemen to maintain their positioning, or “structure.” Occasionally out of place, often screening both Howard and Jonas Gustavsson — Howard, especially — and leaving sticks in the path of Senators’ shots, resulting in defected goals; it was not their best effort.

On the first Ottawa goal, 5:46 in, a hiccup behind his own net by Danny DeKeyser put the puck on Mika Zibanejad’s stick with room to maneuver. But good structure out front by his mates should have bailed out the 23-year-old defenseman.

But, disproportionately arrayed, they never accounted for Eric Gryba and other attackers, and Gryba sauntered in from the point and beat Howard.

On the second goal, with their best penalty-killing defenseman Jonathan Ericsson injured and their second-best, Kronwall in the penalty box, Brian Lashoff and Brendan Smith failed to ward off attackers and, eventually, both stood in line in front of Howard, along with a Senators’ forward, blocking any view of the shot.

On the fourth, when Smith pressed the initiative deep in the Senators’ zone, Pavel Datsyuk dropped back to the blue line to cover for him. But when Jason Spezza rushed the puck up the ice, Smith’s first three strides back into position were not vigorous enough to carry him back into the play.

Datsyuk stayed with Spezza for his first shot. But when Spezza gathered the puck, Smith still had not caught up to him With his skating ability, Smith could and should have been there.

Offense disappears

Along the way, the Wings offense sputtered, again.

When Todd Bertuzzi went to the net with a Senators turnover behind their net in the first period, he was rewarded.

Not much seemed purposeful from the Red Wings attackers after that.

“We’ve got to take charge,” Kronwall said. “We’ve got to want to do something with the puck. Tonight, it was too much watching the other team play.

“Starting with myself, I know I have to be better. I think a lot of the guys in here feel the same way.”

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

Detroit's Todd Bertuzzi gets grabbed by Ottawa's Marc Methot in front of goalie Craig Anderson in the second period. / David Guralnick / Detroit News
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