'Compete, sacrifice': Red Wings go through difficult practice in hopes of ending slide

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Alex Biega

Detroit — There was plenty of skating, bumping, hitting and physicality Tuesday at the Red Wings’ practice.

Given the circumstances around the Wings these days, losers of 11 of their last 12 games, not real close, the tone of Tuesday's practice wasn’t a surprise.

Coach Jeff Blashill has talked often this season about the need for the Wings to outwork opponents, and that hasn’t been the case recently.

Tuesday’s practice was a wake-up call, in that regard, to how the Wings need to play.

“We’ve talked about how we have to be able to out-compete and out-sacrifice people,” Blashill said. “We’re not going to win on our talent. Not that we don’t have talented players, but a lot of nights, the other team  has either more established guys in the league, so we have to win with our compete and sacrifice.

“The last few games, we didn’t out-compete or out-sacrifice anybody. We have to make sure we do a good job of that.

“Our guys worked real hard today.”

More: Losses mount along with speculation about Jeff Blashill's future with Red Wings

More: OctoPulse podcast: Blashill on hot seat, Gordie Howe's last NHL season at age 52

Tuesday’s practice included puck battle drills and half-ice games where bodies collided and bruises were likely earned.

But it’s a style the Wings have to familiarize themselves with again in order to get back in the win column.

“That’s the way we have to play,” defenseman Alex Biega said. “As a five-man unit we have to find ways to get that puck and be an out for each other and play a fast game and try to get in their offensive zone and put pressure on their defense.

“Those are the types of games you play a grinding type of game, and you win games 3-2, 2-1, 1-0, and certainly that’s the way we’re going to have to win games with this group here. The little, small things and details and win puck battles and being hard on guys, competing hard.

“Those are the types of things over the course of 60 minutes that’ll be the difference between winning and losing.”

Roster move

The Wings called up defenseman Dylan McIlrath from Grand Rapids and placed defenseman Trevor Daley on the injured list retroactive to Nov. 2.

McIlrath, 27, has played in 10 games with the Griffins, with three points (all assists) and 15 penalty minutes.

McIlrath (6-foot-5, 231-pounds) has played in 50 NHL games, including seven with the Wings late last season (four penalty minutes, plus-2 rating).

McIlrath was a 2010 first-round pick of Wednesday’s opponent, the New York Rangers.

Blashill said Tuesday both Daley and defenseman Mike Green (illness) were unavailable, and Blashill wasn’t sure about forward Frans Nielsen.

Nielsen didn’t practice Tuesday after taking a shot off his leg in Monday’s game. Nielsen did return to the game and finished, but was unable to practice Tuesday.

Goaltending status

Goaltender Jimmy Howard has had incredible success playing at Madison Square Garden throughout his career, but Blashill wouldn’t commit to starting Howard Wednesday in New York.

Howard has been pulled in his last two starts, as his statistics have sunk to an unsightly 3.97 goals-against average and .889 save percentage (with a 2-7-0 record).

But Jonathan Bernier hasn’t been all that much better (2-4-1, 3.51 GAA, .887 SVS).

“If you ask both of us, we can be better,” Howard said. “We have to be, starting (Wednesday).”

Blashill wouldn’t specify one area, but said the entire roster has room for improvement.

“For me, the whole team, including the goalies, everybody, has to be better,” Blashill said. “I’m not going to single one group. The whole group has to be better, and everybody in this room knows that.”

Red Wings at Rangers

Faceoff: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Madison Square Garden, New York

TV/radio: NBCSN/97.1 

Outlook: The Wings (4-11-1) and Rangers (5-6-1) play for the first time this season. ... The Rangers are coming off a disappointing 6-2 loss at home to Ottawa. … C Artemi Panarin (12 points) has been dangerous offensively, but G Henrik Lundqvist (2-3-0, 3.58 GAA, .906 SVS) has struggled.


Twitter: @tkulfan