Detroit — This was their opportunity, a pivotal stretch in the schedule where the Red Wings could climb the standings and help secure a playoff berth later in the season.
A long homestand, a stretch of 13 of 15 games at Little Caesars Arena, which in the NHL is somewhat unusual. But, with Friday’s game against Toronto ending that quirk in the schedule, the Red Wings haven’t capitalized.
In fact, they’re in worse shape now than when they began the homestand.
“The play has been pretty good, the record, obviously, not good,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “That’s ultimately what you’re going to be judged, by where you’re at in the standings.”
On Nov. 11, when the Red Wings hosted Columbus to begin this portion of the schedule, the Red Wings were 8-8-1 and 11th in the East in the tightly packed standings.
When they were to skate onto the ice Friday night against Toronto, the Red Wings were 11-13-7, having dropped to 12th in the still tightly packed East — but also five points behind Boston (who has two games in hand) for the third and final automatic playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.
“That’s disappointing,” Henrik Zetterberg said of the lack of the success at home.
For whatever reason, the Red Wings continue to have difficulties gaining home-ice advantage at LCA. They’ve gone 3-4-5 at their new rink during this homestand — and are a weak 5-6-6 for the entire season.
It’s somewhat similar to what happened last season, during the swan song at Joe Louis Arena. Almost around the same point of the schedule, the Red Wings had an opportunity to steady themselves with a good stretch of games at JLA, and the Red Wings didn’t capitalize. In fact, they ended the season an average 17-17-7 at JLA.
It may not get that much better this season, in their new home.
“We know it’s going to be tough to get these points back,” Tomas Tatar said. “But we’re here, and we can’t give up and we have to find a way to get these points back.”
After Friday night, the Red Wings play their next four games on the road, then enjoy another favorable home schedule in January (eight of 11 at home, sandwiched around a bye week and All-Star weekend). But then reality begins to hit.
They have eight of 14 games on the road in February, and a rugged 11 of 16 games away from LCA in March, when the arena is hosting the Horizon League basketball tournaments, as well as early round NCAA Tournament games.
Coach Jeff Blashill has consistently embraced the concept of looking ahead, but learning from the past. That’s his approach to this completed homestand, too.
“As coaches and players it’s real important to learn from what has happened in the past, but other than that,” Blashill said. “To move on, and we have a new day today, and we have to win a hockey game.
“I’m not really thinking about what could have been or should have been, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. Have we grown from it, and let’s go win a hockey game.”
Forward Anthony Mantha entered Friday’s game with a point in five games, and two goals over his last 12 games. Mantha had three points (two goals, one assist) over that same 12-game stretch.
Mantha is optimistic his luck will change soon.
“Last game I had six shots, it’s a matter of time before they go in,” Mantha said. “I don’t think I’m playing bad. I’m having chances, our line is having chances.”
Blashill, too, is optimistic Mantha’s offense will return.
“He just needs to stay with it,” Blashill said. “He certainly has had (offensive) chances, and he’s in a good spot mentally. If he keeps getting those chances, he’s going to score.
“As you continue to build as a player, you understand that if you continue to get chances, and you’re talented the way he’s talented, that results will follow.”
The Red Wings were expected to dress the same lineup as in the last few games, with Luke Witkowski playing as the seventh defensemen.
… Toronto wasn’t expected to have star forward Auston Matthews (upper body) in the lineup, but Blashill still regards the Maple Leafs’ talent level among the best in the NHL.
“They still have lots of dangerous, dangerous players,” Blashill said. “They’re one of the deepest teams in the league up front. Anytime you have a Mitch Marner spend time on the fourth line (which Marner did earlier this season), it tells you the depth you have up front.”
…Goaltender Jimmy Howard was slated to get his fifth consecutive start and 13th start in the last 15 games. And in the two games Howard didn’t start, he relieved Petr Mrazek.