Wings must keep pedal to metal to stay in playoff race
Detroit — The tight NHL standings were brought up to coach Jeff Blashill the other day, about how there was little separation in the standings and teams were bunched together.
And, given the last few years in the league, and how this season was shaping up, there was going to be a tight pack all the way to the end this season, too.
“This league is relentless,” said Blashill, noting how it’s important for any team to not take a game off. “If you let up for a second, you will fall behind so fast you won’t know what happened to you.”
A relentless approach — at least, for the most part — has kept the Red Wings at, or at slightly above, the .500 mark and thinking about the possible playoff spot at the end of this season.
As the Red Wings prepared for Tuesday’s game against Los Angeles, they had a 10-9-5 record — in that third and final automatic playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, but only one defeat away from falling below the cutoff line.
Consistent improvement, especially with the Red Wings’ young players, is going to be a must this season.
“You have to keep taking those miniscule steps,” Blashill said. “That’s a process for young guys. A lot of our veterans understand that and are good at it. But that’s a process.”
The recipe for success, for this particular Red Wings group, is to play with speed, play a simple game, get elite goaltending and have effective special teams.
When the Red Wings check off all those boxes, they’ve had success.
“That’s the big factor, keep it a lot simpler,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “When we do that, we spend less time in our own end and spend more time in their end. With the speed we have on our team, it makes it easier for us.
“(When) we’re on the same page, we’re not trying to do too much, we have patience and we know we’re going to get our (offensive) chances if we do things right and not try to force it.”
The Red Wings got away from their style of play briefly, not playing with structure they’d like, and it contributed to the first two losses in what Tuesday was a four-game winless streak.
But in the last two losses, both in overtime, the Red Wings felt they’d at least returned to the style of play that will win hockey games.
“If we are going to play like this, good things are going to be happening,” forward Tomas Tatar said. “We did a lot of good things. We played for 60 minutes. The only thing missing were more goals.”
Part of Blashill’s relentless approach has to do with playing with speed — and when the Red Wings have done so, they’ve been a tough out for other teams.
Players such as Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha have turned the Red Wings into a fast, dynamic team in opponents’ eyes.
The key is for the Red Wings to maintain that speed over 60 minutes.
“I’ve heard that from a number of opponents,” said Blashill, of other teams talking about the Red Wings’ speed game. “Being fast has way more to do with how you play than it does to having fast players in your lineup.
“Certainly having fast players in your lineup helps but you have to play fast. That gets thrown around a lot now in the NHL. It’s an attack mentality, it’s not slowing the game down and it’s not letting other teams set up their defense. It’s attacking before they’re allowed to set up their defense.
“We’ve bought into it and done a way better job of that lately.”