Detroit — The Oilers, whom the Red Wings throttled two weeks ago at the start of their recent 6-2-1 run, will be in town Thanksgiving eve, and by then the sting of the late-game loss to the young Avalanche might have subsided.
The Wings hope to play as they did shutting out the Oilers, 4-0, and putting Connor McDavid on the bench, rather than the considerably less effective effort against Colorado, when the pace so integral to their success slowed.
Speed is generated by the legs. But it starts in the head.
Whatever source suddenly became depleted, it showed all around the ice Sunday.
A slower hockey team can take more penalties. One sure way of catching up to a skater is by hooking, holding or tripping. A slash also can provide some deterrence.
Without pace there is also less forechecking. Let alone the sort of blanketing attack that kept the Oilers’ line of McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon off the scoring sheet Nov. 5, and had the former Wings assistant Todd McLellan looking for alternative combinations from behind the bench in Edmonton.
Meanwhile, playing with the lead has been awkward, at times, in recent seasons for the Red Wings.
And, when Niklas Kronwall put them ahead 3-1 at 11:07 of the third period Sunday, it seemed as if they thought they could ease up on some proverbial gas pedal they had never adequately pressed.
“I certainly don’t expect to get outskated the whole game. you know?” said Jeff Blashill, whose team had Monday off. “There’s no chance. And then, to get outskated at the end of the game.
“I mean, at some point we’ve got to dig in and outskate them.”
Asked if he thought his team had put such inferior play behind them during the recent string of success, Blashill said, “I don’t know if it’s behind them, or not.
“We’ve got to regroup and make sure we’re ready to go up against a real tough Edmonton team, on Wednesday.”
At times this season, the Red Wings were too often in the penalty box. Killing penalties is tiring, and it disturbs the rolling of the lines, keeping some skilled players on the bench.
While their penalty killing proved a highlight of the night, Nail Yakupov’s power play goal 2:38 after Kronwall’s emotionally elevating tally allowed the Oilers 6:15 to tie it.
It took them 5:29.
And six minors in the game is too many, regardless, even when five are killed with seemingly comparative ease, including a 48-second 5-on-3.
But Blashill is not yet concerned the trend of too many penalties has re-emerged.
“I think it was a singular type thing today,” he said, after the game.
Some of penalties were incidental. Although Mike Green certainly got his full two-minute value by landing a couple of gloved right hands when it seemed as though the referees were not taking matters into their hands, so perhaps someone else needed to attend to things around the Red Wings zone.
“We took a couple of high sticks, but on Nyquist’s high stick I don’t know what else he can do,” Blashill said. “He’s just shooting the puck, and ultimately it rides up the (opponent’s) stick and hits him.”
A signature of the most recent glory years for the Wings is in the highlights of the era, forwards like Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk skating rapidly without the puck in the faces of opponents, deep in the opponents’ zone.
The forecheck can be most disruptive and, as the saying goes, it is difficult to score from one’s own end.
“We never had any forecheck pressure, at all,” Blashill said, of the game against the Avalanche. “And when you don’t have forecheck pressure, then you’re on your heels and we end up spending so much time in our d-zone.
“So, we’ve got to be way better than that.”
Over the past few seasons, closing out other teams has too often proved difficult for the Wings.
Puck possession and attention to the details of their defense are critical ingredients in salting away a victory.
When Kronwall made it 3-1 and the Red Wings were suddenly in their own end for most of the last 8:53 of the game.
“I don’t know if we quit playing. I don’t know whether we thought we won it at that point,” Blashill said. “But we’ve got to keep pushing.
“The easiest way to win is to score the fourth one, without taking any unneeded risk.”