Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill talks about facing the new-look Bruins. Gregg Krupa, Detroit News
Boston — The “just-win” mantra the Red Wings have carried through two disappointing seasons still guides them, Jeff Blashill said.
Forget the mathematics of the playoffs, which have gone from difficult for the Red Wings beginning around Thanksgiving, to dire last month, to almost impossible now.
It is important for teams to win, for athletes to play as if victory is the prized goal, Blashill and Red Wings management agree.
It is especially important, on a redeveloping team, for players with comparatively less NHL experience to continue to measure their performance by whether it helped their team achieve victory.
As for the standings and playoff position, Blashill agreed the approach is, “So what? Keep going.”
“I think there’s been lots of times when it’s looked like, you know, are we going to get back up?” said Blashill, who is in the third season of a four-year contract as head coach. “We keep getting back up, and that’s what we’re going to keep doing.
“Find a way to win tomorrow night,” he said, against a surprisingly strong Bruins team, that just reloaded for the playoffs, and is in second place in the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins made several personnel moves beginning in late 2015-16, before firing their Stanley Cup-winning coach Claude Julien in February 2017. It gave some fans and observers the impression of perhaps dumping salary and preparing for a long rebuild.
But general manager Don Sweeney has worked wonders, mixing young players, like 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy and 21-year-old Brandon Carlo, with free-agent acquisitions, while discarding some veterans, and acquiring others.
The team also responded to coach Bruce Cassidy.
Veterans brought into the change in emphasis from defense and positional play to a speedier offensive attack, emphasizing the transition game.
Young players found they could take more risks and play more creatively.
In recent weeks, the Bruins also have acquired Rick Nash, Nick Holden, Tommy Wingels and Brian Gionta, adding potentially elite scoring and some depth to solidify the roster for a deep run in the playoffs.
“They’ve obviously added some good pieces,” Blashill said. “But their identity doesn’t change and what they’re good at doesn’t change.
“I thought the last time that we played them, they were very, very good in their transition game. That’s what we want to be great at.
“I thought they out-transitioned us,” he said.
“I don’t think they get enough credit for having a real good north game. So, we’ve got to make sure we do a better job against them.
“We’ve got to make sure we do a good job of gapping out of our end, and we’ve got to make sure we’re doing a good job of putting them on their heels,” Blashill said.
It is another tough season for the Red Wings.
Perhaps more than last season, when they had their worst win-loss record since 1990-91 and did not qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1989-90, it seems that, even when playing at their best, this Wings roster is challenged to win.
Beginning play Monday nine points behind the Blue Jackets in the second wild-card playoff slot, the Wings are actually 10 points out of playoff position, counting the tie-breaker, with 17 games left.
At 26-29-10, if they go 7-7-3 in their last 17 games, the Red Wings will match their record of last season, 33-36-13.
They are 0-3 in their last three games
The Wings are 3-6-1 in their last 10, and 5-8-2 in their 15 games played, since Feb. 3.
It is hardly the playoff push they had in mind.
Despite some flickers of hope, it is tough to discern any improvement in performance this season, beyond some of the younger guys playing with more experience, as they continue to develop.
Blashill indicated he would stick with his most recent shuffling of lines and search for improvement on the power play, which ranks 21st of the 31 teams.
Frans Nielsen will remain on the power play.
The other recent moves include: Anthony Mantha on a line with Dylan Larkin and Justin Abdelkader. Tyler Bertuzzi on to a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist. Nielsen centering Andreas Athanasiou and Darren Helm.
While matching up last on the road in Minnesota and Boston sometimes means the line change, again, Blashill said he liked the new scheme.
They are his latest in a lengthy list of line shuffling over the past two seasons, intended to milk offense from a dormant lineup.
“Larks has had a good year,” Blashill said. “But I also wanted to see if we couldn’t get a little more out of that line, in the last little bit.
“I think Zetterberg’s been our best line over the last 10 games, and so maybe by spreading it out we get two lines humming offensively. And, if you get Nielsen and Abdelkader, now you get three lines humming offensively,” the coach said.
“We’re trying to look for different ways to get a little more offense. “