Another defensive lull costs Red Wings in loss to Devils
Newark, N.J. — If you've watched the Red Wings, you've seen the script of this game often already this season.
They stayed close for a while, allowed multiple goals in quick fashion, didn't generate enough offense (that's definitely been a given), and wound up losing.
Saturday, it was 5-1 to the New Jersey Devils, stretching the Wings' latest winless stretch to five (0-3-2).
The Wings (7-15-3) return home Sunday to host Carolina — and will be without leading goal-scorer Anthony Mantha.
Mantha only played three shifts in the first period Saturday because of a lower body injury. Coach Jeff Blashill said Mantha will be out “a little bit of time” and is likely to have a further update Sunday.
Not having Mantha — who leads the Wings with 12 goals — for any length of time would further decimate an already anemic offense.
Adam Erne (hand) also was out Saturday after blocking a shot in the morning skate.
The Wings are likely to recall a forward from Grand Rapids Sunday, especially if Erne can’t play.
The Wings were tied 1-1 heading into the third period, but watched New Jersey score two goals 1 minute, 59 seconds apart, just under seven minutes into the period.
From there, instead of tightening things, the Wings’ defensive game, in particular, disintegrated.
And that bothered Blashill.
“We have to make sure we are playing ‘winning’ hockey, and through most of the year we have been playing (that type of hockey),” Blashill said. “Five-on-five, not giving up tons of chances, and getting our chances. But now we’ve been real porous defensively the last couple of games.
“We gave up 23 (scoring) chances last game and tonight will be the same and that’s not good enough.
“I have to make sure we make clear to our group, both for (Sunday) night and the long term future of this team, we have to play hockey the right way. We have to play great defensive hockey and you get your offense from checking and we have to understand that.”
Blashill has seen some cheating on the defensive end from his team, in an effort to get offense. That was particularly evident Saturday as the game went along.
“It’s a learning process sometimes for players to balance offense and defense and we have to be better at it,” Blashill said. “We have to produce offense while still being good defensively. As we moved through the last few weeks we’ve cheated too much and if we’re a cheating hockey team, we’ll never be good long term, ever.
“We can’t allow that to be OK, and as a coaching staff, we can’t allow guys to cheat. We’ll play the right way for the long term success of the organization. We have to make sure we do that.”
New Jersey’s two goals came swiftly, as they often have been against the Wings this season, and changed the complexion of the game.
Devils defenseman Will Butcher got credit for a goal at 4:42, Butcher’s third goal, breaking a 1-1 tie.
Butcher pass was tipped by Dennis Cholowski and the puck went to the crease, where it bounced off McIlrath’s skate — he was battling with Kyle Palmieri for position — and into the net.
Then at 6:41, Blake Coleman knocked the puck from Madison Bowey near the slot area, and snapped a shot past goalie Jonathan Bernier giving New Jersey a 3-1 lead.
“For sure we got away from our game when those two (goals) came,” forward Frans Nielsen said. “We started to take chances and turned pucks over and they created a lot of (offensive) chances.
“That can’t happen, whatever the score is you have to stick with your game plan.”
Taylor Hall clinched it for the Devils (8-10-4) with an empty-net goal at 15:23, and Coleman added an exclamation point with 11 seconds left. Off a faceoff victory, Coleman somehow broke in alone on Bernier, to close the scoring, his seventh goal.
“Bernie (Bernier) was great, he was excellent,” Blashill said. “You look at the goals, he can’t do much on them. It’s a joke we gave up a breakaway on the last shift and he’s got to end up letting one more in, that’s an absolute joke.”
Taro Hirose and New Jersey’s Palmieri exchanged goals 26 seconds apart in the second period to open the scoring.
The Wings were fine through 40 minutes, but saw yet another game drift away in the third period.
“I liked our game until (the third period),” forward Dylan Larkin said. “Then it’s the same story for us, they score one and things don’t go our way and we kind of go into a shell. It’s pretty frustrating.”