Former Michigan State star Taro Hirose on the speed difference between college hockey and the NHL. The Detroit News
Detroit – The Red Wings have had nothing to play for – at least with respect to the standings – in these final weeks of the season.
Yet they have won four of their last five games and have shown some impressive fortitude under difficult conditions.
“We lost our way a little bit after the trade deadline, we weren’t very good for a stretch there,” coach Jeff Blashill said Wednesday. “Mentally we had got beat down a little bit. (But) the last two games (both victories) – even the St. Louis game (loss) – we did a lot of things the right way.
“I’m real happy with the way our guys have dug in and competed and sacrificed. You see guys blocking shots and doing things to be a winning team.”
Despite their position in the standings, the Wings believe they can build something positive off this latest hot stretch. They have six games remaining, starting Thursday night in Buffalo.
“There is a future to play for, both individually and as a group, and our guys understand that,” Blashill said. “It speaks to the character of the group. We’ve done a good job of playing as unit of five and it’s been fun to watch.
“Hopefully we can keep going here.”
With the winning has come added enthusiasm in the locker room, especially with the growing number of young players who are either getting their first taste of the NHL, or with the Red Wings.
“With the wins, that’s the best part of hockey,” said defenseman Madison Bowey, who was acquired at the trade deadline from Washington for Nick Jensen. “You feel closer in the dressing room, and with the winning, just to get that feeling going again, it can lead into next year.
“It’s just great to see how we’re working.”
Several players remarked how a good finish could be a springboard into next season.
“It could be a big steppingstone,” Bowey said. “We have a great young crew here and if we can just make sure we’re bearing down here in the next few games, going into next season with that kind of confidence will be huge.”
With so many few faces in the lineup, the Wings have kept things simple from a schematic standpoint and it’s been working.
But, also, having goaltender Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier playing outstanding has helped.
“We’ve kept it simple, not that it’s over-complicated, but they’ve done a good job of playing as a unit and being on the same page and when you do that, you give yourself the best chance,” Blashill said. “The other thing, in the last couple of games, the chances both ways were pretty even, but both goalies were real good, and the difference in this league is so small every night.”
Howard made 28 saves in the 3-2 OT win in Vegas on Saturday and Bernier made 39 in the 3-2 triumph over San Jose on Monday.
Forward Jacob de la Rose, who had an accelerated heartbeat March 19 against the New York Rangers, is leaning toward having a procedure to correct the issue.
If de la Rose has the procedure, he’ll miss these final six games but should be ready to go for the start of training camp in September.
“He’s leaning toward having it done,” Blashill said. “It would ultimately fix his issue. He would need to be on blood thinners and wouldn’t be able to play contact sports, but he’d be fine for next season.”
Hirose stays hot
Forward Taro Hirose (Michigan State) has an assist in each of his first four NHL games and is enjoying every minute of his first taste of the NHL.
“It’s fun to be part of,” Hirose said. “I try to take it day by day and just get better every time and prove to the coach I can play at this level.”
Hirose had an opportunity, during an off-day Sunday in San Jose, to finally sit back for 24 hours and slow down from what’s been a whirlwind few weeks.
“It was nice to just to relax in the hotel and walk around in the nice weather and just take it all in,” Hirose said. “That was a big day, and playing well in San Jose was good.”
What’s been the biggest adjustment from the Big Ten to the NHL?
“Definitely speed,” Hirose said. “The guys are bigger, faster, stronger. Even the biggest guys in the league, like (San Jose’s) Brent Burns, that guy can fly. That’s been an adjustment that I’m getting used to.”
Forwards Anthony Mantha and Luke Glendening were held out of Wednesday’s practice. Blashill said Glendening has been dealing with various injuries all season and felt the day off was more of a “maintenance day.”
Mantha blocked a shot in the San Jose game and some swelling remained Wednesday.
With those two uncertain, the Wings called up Martin Frk from Grand Rapids.
… Blashill said forward Michael Rasmussen (upper body) could be out for the final six games, after having missed the last two games.
“He could be out for the rest of the year, just because we’re running out of time,” Blashill said. “It’s nothing long-term, just the reality of the situation (so few games remaining).”
… Thomas Vanek (middle body), who missed Monday’s game, skated briefly Wednesday but will not be available for the next two games.
… Blashill said the Wings would likely go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen in Buffalo, for a second consecutive game.
Red Wings at Sabres
Faceoff: 7 p.m. Thursday, KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Sabres (31-36-9) had an outstanding start this season but are in the midst of a brutal finish. They’ve lost eight of their last 10 games and sinking fast. … C Jack Eichel (49 assists, 75 points) and LW Jeff Skinner (37 goals) have been bright spots.