Red Wings keep their 'culture' through tough times, strong stretch
Detroit — Coach Jeff Blashill was concerned at this particular point, and probably, rightfully so.
From Feb. 16 to March 14, the Red Wings lost 12 of 13 games and looked awful doing it.
Blashill was concerned for a variety of reasons. But particularly, the winning culture the Wings’ organization had established for so long was in danger of perhaps slipping away.
“Our morale was getting in a tough spot around the (Feb. 25) trade deadline,” Blashill said after Sunday’s 6-3 victory over Boston. “We were struggling, and I’ve said it before: We were losing our way. I was very concerned about potentially losing some of the culture that we’ve been able to maintain here through some hard, losing stretches.
“And that might be hard for people to understand. But if you’re on the inside, you understand it. We’re not far away because of the fact we’ve been able to keep this culture.”
Through a variety of factors, be it the core of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi and Andreas Athanasiou establishing itself at a new level, or great goaltending from Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier, or young players such as Taro Hirose getting their first opportunities and taking advantage of them, or a slew of call-ups from Grand Rapids getting rewarded with promotions after a deluge of Wings’ injuries and succeeding, the Wings’ regained their culture.
They haven’t ended the season on a sour note. If anything, it’s turned around, and the mood heading into the summer will be a positive one.
Sunday’s victory was the Wings’ season-high fifth straight, and seventh in their last eight games.
Critics can correctly point out the Wings have no pressure. The playoffs are long gone, and they’re having fun and playing loose and carefree, while contenders are gearing up for the playoffs.
“Obviously we don’t have a lot of pressure on us, so that’s a tricky thing,” Blashill said. “(But) the biggest reasons why we’re winning is our young guys have been excellent and we’ve gotten very good goaltending.
“(The young players) are taking steps in the right direction to be the type of players that can help carry the franchise to a better spot.”
They are closing out this regular season this week with three games, and mentally, they’re in a good place.
“This has been the best part of this season,” Bertuzzi said. “It’s something we can grow on and bring into next season for sure.”
Blashill, who likely will receive a two-year contract extension at some point this week, sees a different hockey team right now from the one going through that awful losing stretch.
“When we were going through that tough stretch, the lack of morale, lack of confidence, all of a sudden it starts to eat at you and I didn’t like us, either at practice, or in games,” Blashill said. “(But) in the last bit here, I’ve really liked us. I like the way we’re practicing and certainly winning is a huge part of that.
“It gives you confidence, and when our young guys, every step they can take to prove themselves they can be elite players in this league is a real positive for the Detroit Red Wings.”
Not so positive are the fans who have been crying for a “tank”
Because of these victories, the Wings have moved to 27th place overall — which would give them an 8.5 percent of winning the April 9 draft lottery and likely picking Jack Hughes from the USA National Development Team program.
Heck, at this point, the Wings only have a roughly 25 percent chance of drafting in the top three.
But Blashill was in no mood to apologize for the recent victories.
“I’d be way more concerned if I was the fan base that our young guys weren’t able to go head to head against these players who are the elite players in the league,” said Blashill, who felt the Larkin line outplayed Boston’s vaunted trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak during Sunday’s win . “The fact our young players are the ones who are driving this win streak should temper some of those concerns, because these are the guys who are going to make the impact sooner than anyone we draft, and that’s the reality of it.
“No. 2, from a general perspective, you’re talking about percentages. One percent, two percent, three percent, you’re not talking about automatics, so the focus of our team has to be getting better as a group every day.
“The fact we’ve been building and building and these guys are doing a great job should temper a lot of those concerns.”
Mantha had a career-best game Sunday earning five points, with his first three-goal hat trick and two assists.
In a season where the puck was often an enemy for him, the puck followed him around Sunday and produced accordingly.
Relief and satisfaction were on Mantha’s face — frankly, over a lot of Wings’ faces.
“Everyone is smiling, more relaxed, and it shows out there, too,” Mantha said. “It’s been lots of fun.”
Penguins at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit.
TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit-plus/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Penguins (43-25-11) and Wings play twice in three days. … Pittsburgh has won six of 10 games (6-2-2) and is playing for home-ice in the first round of the playoffs. … C Sidney Crosby (61 assists, 94 points) is having another MVP-caliber season.