Newark, N.J. — Right before Wednesday’s morning skate ended at Prudential Center, coach Jeff Blashill brought his team together just outside of center ice.
It was just a brief talk, nothing long. Blashill didn’t share intimate details of it, either.
But the main message was clear from what Blashill told reporters afterward.
“We have to make sure we bring it up a notch,” said Blashill, as the Red Wings ended a three-day holiday break and got back to work. “You saw the last two games. They were tight games that we lost. The other made a play in the third period.
“We have to make sure it’s us making the play. We have to be a little bit better.”
As the NHL resumed its schedule Wednesday, the Red Wings found themselves in a difficult spot.
They were 10 points behind Boston for the third and final automatic playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.
In terms of a wild card in the Eastern Conference, they trailed the New York Islanders by nine points with five teams in front of the Red Wings.
Either way, the path is difficult.
“(General manager) Ken Holland said this to me a long time ago: any time you force things in life, you can be in a tough spot, and it’s the same thing in a hockey game,” Blashill said. “So let’s take what is given and let’s make sure we compete and our work ethic is great.”
The Red Wings lost the last two games before the holiday break in Philadelphia and Boston, with both games tied in the third period. However, they ultimately lost by a goal in Philadelphia and two (one empty net) goals in Boston.
It’s been a pattern for a while now, playing well enough — only to lose.
To the Red Wings’ credit, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of frustration settling in yet.
“It stinks,” forward Darren Helm said of the losing. “It can get frustrating. Blash (Blashill) says you can use that and elevate your game. I’ve tried to do that. I see other guys trying to do that as well.
“So, yeah, it’s frustrating, but you have to use it the right way. It can be a good motivator.”
As a group, the Red Wings still believe they’re not far from being a winning Eastern Conference team — more near the top than the bottom.
“We’ve been right there, but it’s not enough,” defenseman Trevor Daley said. “We just need to get a little bit more out of our group.”
Routine in flux
Having a road game after the holiday break meant the Red Wings traveled the day of the game.
They gathered early Wednesday morning to make the flight to Newark and bussed straight to Prudential Center for the morning skate.
Normally, they’d come in the night before. It’s a different routine, but few felt it was a major issue.
“Not a whole lot different for me, waking up early,” said Helm, who has three infant girls. “You just get to the plane, take off, and get here, get ready for a skate. I don’t think it’s a huge deal flying in the day of a game.
“But it’s a little different look.”
At this point in their careers, many Red Wings have been through this particular routine after the holidays.
“We traveled but that’s not a big difference,” Blashill said. “You get on the plane, get there, eat some breakfast and you’re ready to go. Both teams get a pregame skate. Sometimes a break is a good thing.”
Blashill used the same lineup from Saturday’s loss in Boston, including keeping young forward Tyler Bertuzzi with Frans Nielsen and Helm on a checking line.
…The Devils could be considered America’s Team, in a way.
They have 15 players from the United States, the most of any team in the NHL.