Losses mount along with speculation about Jeff Blashill's future with Red Wings
Detroit — For a coach who is supposedly embattled and in danger of joining the unemployment line, Jeff Blashill was in complete control Tuesday.
The Red Wings coach put his team through a tight, rigorous, physical practice.
He talked confidently to the media about what needs to be done and how the Wings can fix all their current problems.
Blashill was also adamant that the winning culture the Wings’ organization has cultivated over the last three decades is still there, and isn't disintegrating, despite missing the playoffs three consecutive seasons and a current slump that includes 11 losses in the last 12 games.
“Part of that is on the coaching staff and our leadership to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Blashill said about maintaining the winning culture. “Dylan Larkin was the best player in practice today. That’s what great leaders do, they go out and when it’s bleak and doesn’t look good, they go out and lead the way. He was excellent, and that’s the work ethic and commitment it’s going to take not to lose the culture, and that’s important to everybody in this room, to (general manager) Steve Yzerman, and important to everybody in the organization.”
Blashill’s future with the Wings is becoming a hot topic as the Wings have sunk to the bottom of the NHL standings with nine points.
They’ve been outscored 52-20 during this current 12-game stretch, including 17-4 over the last three games, which have been particularly unimpressive.
For the season, the Wings had a goal-differential of minus-29. The next closest team, heading into Tuesday's games, was San Jose with minus-20.
Yzerman hasn’t commented on Blashill’s status, but judging from Yzerman’s work as general manager in Tampa, he is normally patient and isn’t prone to rash decisions.
In the midst of a rebuilding phase, most everyone expected the Wings to struggle this season. But what has been troubling is the frequent spells of non-competitive play.
If the Wings were competitive on a more consistent basis, Blashill's future would not be a topic right now.
Dan Bylsma, who coached Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup victory over the Wings in 2009, is one of Blashill’s assistants, and could serve as a stop-gap replacement for Blashill should Yzerman decide to make a change.
Players are putting the blame for this poor stretch of hockey on themselves, and not on Blashill or his staff.
“Talking to everyone here, the locker room isn’t the issue by any means," goalie Jimmy Howard said. "We have a close-knit group here, everyone wants to do well for each other. We just have to figure out what individually we can do better.”
That was the same message alternate captains Justin Abdelkader and Larkin laid out after Monday’s 6-1 loss to Nashville, as Blashill’s job security was broached for the first time.
Both players were quick to stand behind Blashill.
“It’s not on the coaches, it’s our group, the players in the room,” Abdelkader said. “We have to get the job done. We’ve watched plenty of video of us not doing things the way we’ve done things when we’ve been successful. That’s not on the coaches. That’s on the players.”
Blashill is the only head coach Larkin has known in his young NHL career and praised Blashill’s day-to-day approach.
“Blash comes to work every day, he preaches process and he’s dedicated guy,” Larkin said. “He’s done so much for us. We’re not pointing fingers here, that’s what could make this worse.
“We’re going to have to come together, and pointing fingers like that is not going to get us anywhere that we want to be."
Having picked apart Monday’s loss, and after meetings and a tough and successful practice, Blashill was only thinking about what is ahead for his team and how the losses could be turned into victories.
“You’re constantly thinking about how we can get better,” Blashill said. “That’s what most coaches do. That’s what we all do. We’re trying to find ways to get better and so are the guys in this room.
“Our guys don’t want to go out and do that (lose). We want to be better than that. Our job is to try to be solution-based and find solutions, and part of that is to design a practice that will win a game tomorrow.”
After Monday’s loss, Blashill was confident his message was still getting across to the players.
“To be dead honest with you, I haven’t thought two seconds about it," Blashill said about his job security. "All we’re thinking about as a coaching staff is getting our guys ready, and those guys have to go out and make decisions (on the ice) and make the right plays.”
Veteran defenseman Alex Biega has been through this sort of drama before. Biega has played in Vancouver in recent years, where losing streaks and talk about breaking up the team and firing the head coach are common.
From that experience, Biega said after Tuesday’s practice, it’s important for the Wings to keep the distractions at a distance and concentrate on what can be done to halt the losing.
“For sure it’s white noise,” said Biega of the speculation about Blashill's future. “You have to say, ‘How am I going to be the solution?’ If everybody can do that and do that consistently, we’ll turn things around.
“You have to have the belief that by doing the small things every day and bringing that work ethic, you're going to see things turned around.”
Here are the NHL’s worst teams in goal differential, heading into Tuesday’s games:
San Jose: minus-20
Los Angeles: minus-19
Here are the NHL’s worst teams in power-play percentage and penalty-kill percentage, heading into Tuesday’s games:
Ottawa: 8.3 percent
Los Angeles: 9.1 percent
Anaheim: 10.0 percent
Chicago: 12.8 percent
Dallas: 13.0 percent
Detroit: 13.2 percent
Columbus: 13.6 percent
Los Angeles: 67.3 percent
Winnipeg: 67.7 percent
Detroit: 68.6 percent
Montreal: 69.8 percent
Tampa Bay: 72.9 percent
Columbus: 74.4 percent
New Jersey: 75.0 percent