Red Wings continue searching for identity as losses pile up

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Philadelphia — The identity of the Red Wings is pretty clear to most fans these days. It's one of a losing hockey team.

But the Wings think of it in different terms, of forging a style or way of playing hockey they can fall consistently back on.

Early in the season — for the opening two or three weeks at least — they were a fast team that also played aggressively, rallied from deficits, and didn’t sit back.

Philadelphia's Sean Couturier, left, celebrates with Oskar Lindblom after Couturier scored a goal during the second period.

After Friday’s 6-1 loss in Philadelphia, there’s no tangible identity other than a team giving up huge amounts of goals and consistently losing.

With four full months of the schedule left, something to has change.

“There’s a lot of hockey left and we have to somehow find an identity very soon,” said forward Frans Nielsen, one of the few veteran leaders left on the evolving roster. “We have to find a way of playing hockey that we know we can be successful. Right now, it’s too inconsistent.

“We have to figure out who we are out there.

“It’s so important if you want to be a winning team that you have your identity and every guy knows their role and everybody knows what they have to do to be successful out there playing as a team.

“We have to find a way to do that.”

Since winning three of their opening four games — remember those days? — the Wings have been 4-16-3.

They’ve gotten away doing some of the things that made them briefly successful.

“Early on we were movig the puck quick,” Nielsen said. “It wasn’t nothing fancy, but we were getting up the ice and beating guys up the ice and making out-numbered rushes.

“At times we make it too cute now. We have to find a way back to playing simple and playing north (up the ice) and just a hard team to play against.”

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There were stretches of Friday’s game against the Flyers that coach Jeff Blashill felt the Wings were getting back to that style.

“Tonight was way more the way our identity has to be, with the execption of the odd-man rushes against,” Blashill said. “But part of that being aggressive, is potential for out-numbered rushes. Some of them weren’t even out-numbered, we were bad around our net.

“We were way faster tonight, faster through the neutral zone, our forecheck was good and we played real good in the offensive zone.

“That’s the way we have to play. Our defense was dwon the walls and we were keeping pucks alive. We have to do that without giving up the goals.”

The Wings acknowledge they’ve dug themselves a deep, ugly hole they’re not likely to completely get out of this season.

They’re last in the overall standings, and may well stay there the entire season.

But it’s going to be important to play better than they have been.

“We know we’re in a very tough spot right now,” Nielsen said. “But we have to believe, we have to focus on one day at a time, going out there and trying to figure out how this team will be successful.”

Mental toughness

For many of these losses recently, the Wings have let close games get away from them quickly and demoralizingly.

A 3-1 deficit Friday after two periods, with the Wings very much in the game, quickly became a 5-1 deficit just 57 seconds into the third period (two goals against in 30 seconds).

How do the Wings become mentally tougher?

“Part of it is don’t give up that many goals,” Blashill said. “Every goal is a bit of a dagger. We have to keep working on that mental toughness and the next shift mentality of it.

“But goals are daggers, and you have to do a better job of not giving up goals like that. We have to keep games more within reach for way longer than we did.”

For the Wings to get out of this tailspin, said Blashill, it’s important to simply focusing on the next game and the opportunity it presents.

“All I’d say is what I’ve said to our guys all year — if we go tomorrow night and we play real good hockey, and first of all, that’s more fun, you have the puck way more and if you win the game and walk off the ice, you feel way better about yourself than if you lose,” Blashill said. “Winning is way more fun than losing, that’s just the reality. It doesn’t matter what the record is. All that matters is the next game, that’s just reality.”

Ice chips

The Wings placed goaltender Jimmy Howard (mid-body) on injured reserve and activated defenseman Mike Green, who played 23 minutes 22 seconds, was minus-2, and had two giveaways and two takeaways.

Blashill indicated Howard will be re-evaluated in a week.

… Taro Hirose was a healthy scratch, with Adam Erne (hand) re-entering the lineup.

… In his Wings’ debut, goaltender Calvin Pickard stopped 29 of 35 shots.

… Philadelphia is a house of horrors for the Wings. They’ve won once over their last 18 games in Philadelphia (1-15-2).

Capitals at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7 Saturday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The Capitals (18-4-5) have looked like Stanley Cup contenders from the start of this season with a deep, experienced lineup. … LW Alex Ovechkin (17 goals) remains one of the NHL’s elite players, but D John Carlson (28 assists, 36 points) has excelled this season, as has G Braden Holtby (12-2-4, .909 SVS).

Twitter: @tkulfan