Jeff Blashill talks about the Wings' inability to convert early scoring chances in Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Penguins. The Detroit News
Pittsburgh — It may not look like Christmas anymore, but suddenly, it’s beginning to look like October.
And if you’re a Red Wings’ fan, that’s not a good thing.
Remember that ugly month when the Red Wings were 1-7-2 during a stretch?
December is looking a lot like it.
Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Penguins was the latest mark in the loss column, and there have been a lot of them lately.
The Red Wings (15-18-6, 36 points) have only won once over the last eight games (1-5-2) and only three games in their last 12 (3-6-3).
Don’t look now, but the Red Wings are only three points from the basement of the Eastern Conference.
“We need to come together like we did in Florida in that tough stretch,” said Dylan Larkin, who extended his point streak to 12 games with a first-period goal, talking about the victory in October that ended a season-opening seven-game losing streak. “We need two points to get us out of this and get our confidence back.
“Our goaltending has been great. We need our special teams to be a little bit better and score more. We have to find a way to get two points and get on a roll.”
Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel did the most damage, scoring two second-period goals between assisting on Derick Brassard’s goal to erase a 1-0 Wings lead.
Andreas Athanasiou, who returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with an upper body injury, scored a breakaway goal in the third period to cut the deficit to 3-2.
But just 1:10 after Athanasiou scored (his 12th goal that ended an 11-game drought), Pittsburgh forward Patric Hornqvist restored the two-goal lead on a redirect past Howard.
Brassard’s empty-net goal ended any suspense.
Dylan Larkin talks about the Wings' desperation for two points during a rough December that featured yet another loss in a 5-2 defeat at Pittsburgh. The Detroit News
“They’re a momentum team and once they start feeling it, we have to make sure we do a better job of finding ways to grab the momentum back,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “It was a night where there were chances we had, but we didn’t score, and they scored on more of their chances.
“There were chances we had to score and we didn’t score.”
Thursday’s game at PPG Paints Arena wasn’t going to be an easy one regardless of circumstances.
Having to travel to Pittsburgh the day of the game, coming off the three-day break, and facing a Penguins (19-12-6, 44 points) team who had won three consecutive games and five of six, wasn’t going to be ideal.
Still, the Wings carried the play the first period, and could have led more than 1-0 on Larkin’s goal (the 16 goals, in only 39 games thus far, already matched his total from last season).
“I don’t know if you’re going to sustain that against anybody for 60 minutes. They’re a good team, but you want to score on your chances,” Blashill said. “We have to make sure when you start like that, you want to walk out with a bigger lead than that.”
The Wings gave Pittsburgh room on its first goal, with Kessel taking a pass from Sidney Crosby, driving around Jonathan Ericsson, who tumbled to the ice, and slid the puck past Howard.
Just 1:14 after Kessel scored, the Penguins broke the tie with another quick-strike goal.
On a rush up the ice, Kessel appeared to be passing to Brassard driving down the wing, but the puck bounded off Brassard’s leg and past Howard at 8:26 of the second period.
“We had a lot of chances tonight. We hit some posts and crossbars and if those pucks go in, it’s a different game,” Athanasiou said. “If we stay out of the box and not let their power play get going and get their big guns in the game, and keep making it tough on them, it would be a lot different.”