Krupa: Blashill isn’t wilting from Wings’ early issues
Detroit — If he is feeling the pressure, it does not show.
Jeff Blashill walks into the Red Wings dressing room wearing sweatpants, a long-sleeve T-shirt tucked in, with a relaxed look of casualness on his face as he approaches a media scrum his daily briefing.
When it takes a moment for the first question asked, Blashill eases an awkward pause with an easy smile.
Any lineup changes?
“From yesterday?” he says, squinting his eyes as he examines his memory for the recollection of who is in, who is out, how the lines and defensive pairings are set, and when he last changed them.
“Uh,” he says, prolonging the utterance to continue the examination. “I think they’re the same as it was yesterday.”
Make no mistake: It is not that Blashill did not know, with precision, his lineup. Recalling with specificity when he last changed it, is more problematic — especially these days.
Through about seven minutes and a dozen questions, he is equally relaxed and confident, pausing to chat with the media corps from Ottawa about undersized defensemen in the NHL and his experience coaching Torey Krug (Livonia) and the Bruins in the best junior league in the states, the United States Hockey League, seven years ago.
He may be the second youngest coach in the NHL, but Blashill has been around.
He may be under pressure, but he coaches hockey. And he has been under pressure before — although not as a head coach in the NHL.
Injuries pile up
It has not been an easy start.
It began with Pavel Datsyuk, out for the first month and a half, followed by Darren Helm, a second of the top three centers, potentially. When newly acquired free-agent center Brad Richards’s wonky back caused him to drop off the sheet, it made three.
Then Johan Franzen and the other big free-agent acquisition, offensive defenseman Mike Green went down, along with a key defensive defenseman, Kyle Quincey.
Injuries are part of hockey and not to be used as excuses. But they are facts.
Meanwhile, headed into the game against the Senators, the Red Wings have looked, in a term coined by their previous coach, “un-Red-Wings-like.”
In social media, some wonder how much of the lack of possession and a transition game results from a rookie coach.
Some say they notice his occasional quizzical facial expression, caught by television cameras. Is the young coach confused, some wonder, on Twitter?
It is far less that Blashill is puzzled, than the Red Wings are puzzling.
Through nine games (4-4-1), his club was perplexing.
Blashill has noticed. And, during games, his face sometimes registers the degree of his recognition.
Also noticing are Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall and other Wings who say, simply, they are not putting one foot in front of the other very well, while experiencing occasional brain cramps and also trying to do so much to make up for all they lack that they needlessly complicate their game.
Ask about the recent stretch of mucky, mistake-riddled play, and some of the players get confused looks on their faces, too.
“In general, we want to spend more time in their zone, and execute a lot better in our zone,” Kronwall said.
“A lot of it,” he said, is moving their feet.
“But also, make sure that your brain’s working,” he added, with a tinge of sarcasm. “Make sure you’re making the right decision, and executing on the play.”
Zetterberg said their befuddlement is not a matter of instituting anything new systemically.
“No,” he said. “It’s just mental errors.
“Either we try to do too much, or we try to make the right play and we don’t execute. And we’ve talked about it.
“We’ve got to make the simple play, or just execute. It’s as simple as that.
“Too many easy mistakes.”
Give him time
It is not the coach. It is the players.
But if it is his players for long enough, then it will be the coach.
Top-flight resumes, like Blashill’s, do not dictate success in the NHL. Guy Boucher still looks for an NHL job after it looked like he could not miss when Steve Yzerman first put him behind the bench in Tampa Bay.
The time for any quick and fast judgments about Blashill’s performance is still well down the road.
But he is likely to look like a far better coach when he fills out a lineup card that includes Datsyuk, Green, Quincey and Richards.
Then everyone is likely to look a lot less confounded. Even some fans.
“We’ve got to focus on us playing at a really high level,” Blashill said at the end of the seven minutes. “We have to play at a much higher level for us to be successful.”
He looked confident and relaxed as he left.