Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill going through character-building ordeal

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Toronto — This hasn’t been an easy season thus far for coach Jeff Blashill, and the Red Wings, at all.

The losses have mounted and wins have been few and far between.

“It’s been, certainly, as big a challenge as I’ve faced in my professional career,” said Blashill after Saturday’s morning skate. “We’d be lying if we didn’t say that. The record (9-24-3) says that.

Jeff Blashill

“It’s a great challenge, and it’s a great opportunity. It’s easy to have great character when things are going awesome.”

Blashill feels this is the kind of season where it’s an opportunity “to make sure I’m leading the right way.”

Blashill has focused on his players making sure they tackle that day, and the future, while letting go of the immediate past — though learning whatever lessons this season have provided.

“There’s not one thing we can do about yesterday expect to learn from it," said Blashill, "and we’ve tried to do that. We’ve tried to not let frustration to creep in, and take the day head-on.”

What Blashill has wanted to see, as the losses continue to mount, is players maintain confidence and swagger.

There have been too many instances where the Wings appear to wane at some points in games.

“We’ve got to play with more confidence,” Blashill said. “We can’t be afraid to make mistakes. We can’t go out and be afraid to get scored on. We have to go out and play to win the shift.”

Now in his fifth year coaching the Wings, Blashill has benefited from those earlier experiences.

“I would tell you, the four years’ experience prior to this has really trained me well for a season like this,” Blashill said. “I would not want to go through this my first year in the league. My confidence hasn’t faltered one bit, because I’ve focused on drawing from previous experiences and focusing on everything the best I can do.

“I can control my attitude and do the very best I can and I’ve done that.”

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General manager Steve Yzerman and Blashill are constantly evaluating and determining which players will be part of the future.

“That’s something that’s certainly you learn for sure,” said Blashill, of which players, by their play, are showing they want to be part of the future, and which ones may not. “When times are tough, true character comes out and some guys certainly have shown they want to be a big part of the solution and some guys, maybe the opposite.

“My job, during the season, as this continues to be real tough, is to make sure I’m playing the guys who want to be part of the solution.

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“Steve is evaluating long term, but my job during the season is playing the guys who want to be part of the solution.”

Yzerman’s message, for Blashill, has been consistent from last summer, when Yzerman came aboard to lead the organization.

“The message to me last summer is similar to the message today — make sure our guys are getting better every day, holding them accountable and make sure they’re getting better every day,” Blashill said.

Mantha looking to click

Saturday’s game was Anthony Mantha’s fourth since returning from a knee injury.

It should be right about the time for Mantha to get back to the level where he was at before getting hurt Nov. 23 in New Jersey.

At that time, Mantha was playing some of the best hockey of his career, leading the team — and still tied with Tyler Bertuzzi  — with 12 goals.

Since coming back, Mantha has one point (an assist) in three games but has had difficulty playing at his previous level.

“Coming back off an injury, usually you start good, you kind of dip, then you build back up,” Blashill said. “He dipped last game (Tuesday’s loss against Columbus). But that’s all right, that’s part of life. We all dipped last game, to be honest with you.

“Hopefully, he can have a real good game here against Toronto and just build back up.”

Howard to start

Goaltender Jimmy Howard is expected to get the start Sunday against Arizona at Little Caesars Arena.

Howard made his second rehab start Friday for Grand Rapids in a 4-2 loss to Iowa.

Howard stopped 25 shots and appeared ready to get back to facing NHL shooters.

“Jimmy played good down there both games,” Blashill said. “He did a good job. He will get home tonight, and the plan right now is playing him (Sunday).”

Coyotes at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7 p.m., Sunday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1 

Outlook: The Coyotes (20-13-4) have moved atop the Pacific Division, and earlier this week made an aggressive trade acquiring LW Taylor Hall (21 assists, 27 points)…This is a deep team, with RW Clayton Keller (17 assists, 25 points), RW Phil Kessel (8 goals) and D Oliver Ekman-Larsson (13 points) key players to stop.

Twitter: @tkulfan