Detroit – — The Red Wings need wins, and it is nearly a tradition in hockey that the first game at home after a long trip is not the best opportunity for success.
With the Canadiens in town toward the end of their disappointing season, the Wings are tied with the Flyers with 83 points in the race for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia has a game in hand.
The Wings play two more at home — the Penguins on Saturday and the Sabres on Monday — before heading to Montreal on Tuesday. That is the first of three consecutive pairings of back-to-back games spread between March 28-April 7.
While that looks tough, the Flyers have two more sets of back-to-backs and play four games in five days to end the season.
Regardless, the Red Wings schedule makes the three-game home stand look even more critical.
“We’ve got to win hockey games, and it starts (today),” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We better come ready to play and certainly take advantage of our home ice and do a good job.
“I think we’ve been a good home ice team the second half of the year, overall, and we’ve got to be a real good home ice team in this stretch.”
Jimmy Howard, who has been through the hair-raising stretch drives for most of his previous seasons, said the team must dig deep.
“It’s got to come from within, here,” Howard said after the ugly 6-2 loss to the Lightning on Tuesday. “There’s not going to be any knight in shining armor that comes over the fence here that’s going to get the job done for us. It’s got to come from within.”
Justin Abdelkader, who scored his 18th goal Tuesday and is nearing his career high of 20 set last season, said he saw some advantage in returning to the ice quickly after the dispiriting loss.
“It’s nice we’re playing (today) so we can learn from this game,” Abdelkader said. “But we’ve got to move past it quick, here.
“We’re just looking at it as one game at a time. We’ve been comfortable at home and we’ve got to go out there and play well.”
Looking for goals
One area of necessary improvement continues to be goal scoring. As it has for much of the season, it lagged again Tuesday, especially given the number of chances the Red Wings generated.
“We gave each other some easy chances,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “They scored on them, we didn’t.
“If you look at scoring chances, I thought it was pretty even.”
A bright spot was the ability of the forwards to get below the Lightning defense to the crease. It carried over, generally, from the Panthers game.
But, unlike last Saturday when their offense finally broke out for five goals, the Red Wings did not capitalize enough.
Luke Glendening tallied two goals the past three games that have been from near the crease.
“You try to do it all year, and sometimes it’ll hit off your shin pad and go in and sometimes it won’t,” Glendening said.
“I think we’ve done a better job of it lately,” he said, of the team. “But we’ve got to do a better job of it, for sure.
“At this time of year, everyone’s making their final push, you know they’re not always going to be pretty. But we’ll take what we can get.”
Feeling the thrill
It is fair to say any kid growing up in Longueuil, Quebec, with hockey dreams conjures images of playing for the Canadiens. The city sits directly across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal.
And when the NHL imaginings are realized — except on another club — it is a thrill to play against Le Club du Hockey Canadien, the official name of the team and the meaning of the “CH” crest on the players’ chests.
Rookie forward Anthony Mantha is feeling it.
“Oh, for sure, I’ve been waiting for that day for a long time,” said the grandson of Andre Pronovost, a defensive forward who won four Stanley Cups with the Canadiens in the 1950s and later played with the Red Wings.
“It’s coming the next game, and I just hope we can bounce back and get that two points.”
Mantha rifled one off a goal post in the opening moments against the Lightning, and had another significant chance with a backhand shot toward the end of the game. But he did garner his first NHL point, assisting with Pavel Datsyuk on Darren Helm’s pretty goal.
An even better sign for the Red Wings was a fine defensive play.
A poorly timed line change allowed the Lightning to attack through the neutral zone with almost no Wings ready for the onslaught.
The first man off the bench, Mantha crossed the entire surface of the ice in a flash to poke-check the puck away and forestall the foray.
Canadiens at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7:30 tonight, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit.
Outlook: Both teams are on 4-6-0 runs. ... Detroit lost in Montreal on Oct. 17 when the Canadiens were hot. The Red Wings won at Joe Louis on Dec 10 after the Canadiens cooled.