Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill says the team's focus remains on winning, and not trying to improve its draft standing. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Montreal — This is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing weeks of the regular season for the Red Wings.
They play Montreal (Monday), Buffalo (Thursday) and Ottawa (Saturday) — sandwiched around a game Tuesday against Pittsburgh, but the Penguins aren’t truly involved in this particular conversation.
You see, the Canadiens, Sabres and Senators are all bunched with the Red Wings in the race to the bottom of the NHL standings.
Red Wings coaches and players will do everything possible to win those games — forget about the higher draft pick.
Red Wings fans, well, they wouldn’t be all that angry if the team loses all three games — in hopes of improving odds to get a better draft pick.
Players know what fans are thinking. But, again, don’t expect anyone to be tanking.
“Obviously we’re out of the playoffs, we can’t really do too much about that,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “But every player in here didn’t come to this level of playing by not having the right mentality going into a game.”
That mentality is doing everything possible to win a game.
“I understand where are coming from but, at the same time, I don’t think anyone thinks like that in here,” forward Frans Nielsen said. “You want to win and you go out there and whatever happens, happens. Especially for players, it’s our jobs. It’s everything.
“Guys are playing for contracts next year. Everyone has to put it on the line. There’s people watching all the time. People watching from other teams. You can’t take a night off.
“Everyone will notice.”
Coach Jeff Blashill also understands where the fan base is coming from, with hopes of getting a higher draft pick, and theoretically, a better player.
But Blashill feels this particular situation the Red Wings are in can be a great learning experience for current young players on the roster.
“For us, we try not hear it, we try not to listen, we try to keep our focus on winning a hockey game, No. 1, competing like crazy, and then, 2, getting better,” Blashill said. “Part of this whole thing is we need some young guys to continue that step and process to hopefully at some point become elite players.
“To do that, you have to keep on working on getting better. So let’s try to keep winning hockey games here.”
Winning some hockey games would take the edge out of what has been a disappointing season.
“You want to get the best pick, but you don’t want to lose,” forward Martin Frk said. “We’ve lost too many games. We won one, and now we’ve lost two games again. You want to keep winning, it just gives you a better feeling.
“The room is better, the staff, fans, so you don’t want to lose. You want to win.”
But Frk understands what fans are thinking, too.
“I see that, better picks, it’s better for the future,” Frk said. “But we are definitely coming (Monday) to win the game. That’s the main goal.”
Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill said having games during practice helps raise the energy level. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Sunday’s practice at Bell Centre was mostly built around competitive games where split teams went after victories with enthusiasm and intensity.
By the way, Team White might still be untying Team Red’s skates and bringing them water.
“I’m a big believer in small games, you can teach habits,” Blashill said of incorporating the competition, rather than more drill work. “They’re meant for a purpose. But it also energizes the team, they enjoy it and get competitive.”
During a long season, Blashill said, the same drill work can get tiresome.
“Especially this time of the year, in the stretch we’ve been in,” Blashill said. “So we wanted to bring a couple small games to bring up the competitiveness.”
Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall didn’t skate Sunday, but it was strictly a maintenance day, said Blashill, who expects both to play Monday.
… Evgeny Svechnikov left practice early after hitting the “funny bone” in his arm, but was fine by the time practice ended.
Red Wings at Canadiens
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec
Outlook: The Canadiens (27-37-12, 66 points) and Red Wings (27-37-11, 65 points) are trying to avoid falling in the standings. … Montreal only has won twice in the last 10 games (2-7-1) and has been hit hard by injuries. G Carey Price (15-24-6, 3.10 GAA, .901 SVS) has had, arguably, one of his worst seasons.