Dallas – The losses are beginning to pile up again and the Detroit Red Wings are moving in the wrong direction in the standings.
Is confidence becoming an issue for a young roster that is generally playing well, but not good enough to earn victories?
The Wings insist it’s not an issue.
But considering the Wings have lost three consecutive games, have only one win in their last eight (1-5-2) and three over their last 12 (3-6-3), the numbers suggest otherwise.
If they don’t stop this slide soon, with a difficult and busy schedule ahead, this season could get out of control.
Which is fine with everyone who wants the Wings to get a better draft position, but not for everyone else.
“We need two points to get out of this,” said forward Dylan Larkin, who has been excellent this losing stretch, with a career-high 12-game point streak. “Our goaltending has been great. We need our special teams to be a little bit better and we need to score more goals to win. We just need to find a way to get two points and get on a roll.”
The Wings began the season in dismal fashion, going winless in their first seven games. But an emotional victory in Florida turned them around, and they went 10-4-1 before slumping again in December as key injuries have piled up.
Coach Jeff Blashill regularly states how confidence is a delicate and important matter for any NHL team.
Given the way the Wings have played against some of the top teams in the NHL in recent weeks, Blashill thinks the Wings have given themselves enough confidence.
“We can’t let that slip,” Blashill said. “We have to make sure we focus on the fact when we play good hockey, we’ve been good against everybody. Let’s make sure we’re playing our best hockey.
“We just have to do it as consistently as possible.”
In the last two games, against Stanley Cup contenders Toronto and Pittsburgh, the Wings held leads and control of the game – only to watch the offensively-explosive Leafs and Penguins strike quickly to take over momentum, and ultimately the game.
Blasill believes being mentally stronger and overcoming this stretch will benefit the Wings in the long run.
“We’ve played good enough to win in our last three (games) and we haven’t,” Blashill said. “So what you have to do is you have to find a way to be mentally tough and grind it out.
“In this league, you can go on runs quick, one way or another. We have to find a way to learn from this and put it behind us and go play a great game (Saturday against Dallas).”
The Wings have allowed four or more goals in four of the last eight games, including five each to Toronto and Pittsburgh.
They’ve been too loose defensively, and they’re not equipped to win most run-and-gun offensive shootouts.
So, being tighter defensively is a must.
“We have to win games 3-2, 2-1,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “We have to get back to playing well defensively like we were when we had things going.”
Said Blashill: “You can’t give up the number of goals we’ve given up and be happy with it. We have to make sure we cut down on the number of goals against.
“We’re playing some high-powered offensive teams. It’s hard to eliminate all their offense but you got to make sure you’re not giving up anything easy. You have to make sure they’re earning everything. You certainly can’t give up as many goals as we’ve given up and have a chance to win.”
Special teams blues
The Wings allowed two Pittsburgh power-play goals, which turned the game around in the second period, and failed to score on their only power-play attempt.
“We’ve been making it too easy,” said Larkin of the recent penalty killing. “We have to stick together and we’ve got to manage the puck like I should have on the (first Phil) Kessel (power-play) goal.”
Blashill changed some lines in practice, putting Larkin between Andreas Athanasiou and Justin Abdelkader, while Frans Nielsen centered Thomas Vanek and Gustav Nyquist.
Defensively, Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley were reunited, while the rookies, Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek, were paired.
Red Wings at Stars
Faceoff: 8 p.m. Saturday, American Airlines Arena, Dallas
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Stars (19-16-3, 41 points) are coming off an impressive 2-0 shutout over Nashville. … C Tyler Seguin (21 assists, 32 points), LW Jamie Benn (15 goals, 30 points) and RW Alex Radulov (11 goals) lead a tough offensive attack.