Detroit – The presents are opened, and now it’s back to work Friday for the NHL.
That includes the Red Wings, at the very bottom of the NHL standings.
The midpoint of the Wings’ schedule will be Tuesday’s New Year’s Eve game. They’ll have two games in Florida this weekend before then.
Those two games aren’t going to mask the troubles the Wings have experienced so far this season – regardless of the outcome – but maybe they can provide a bit of a springboard to better times.
“We’re going to come out of it (four-day break) with tough opponents,” said coach Jeff Blashill, noting Saturday’s game against Florida and Sunday versus Tampa. “We have to do everything we can to find ways to flush anything that has happened up until now.
“We have to flush it and keep working on finding ways to get better as a hockey team. Let’s continue to build to be a better hockey team.”
Many of the numbers the Wings have compiled so far are frightful:
►The Wings’ 9-26-3 record (21 points) puts them 31st of 31 teams and the 30th team, New Jersey (12-19-5), is eight points better (29) while having played two fewer games.
►The Wings are the only team in the NHL that hasn’t reached double-digits in wins.
►The Wings’ goal differential is minus-68 and the next worst is New Jersey at minus-37.
►For good measure, the Wings are the NHL’s lowest-scoring team (2.16 goals per game) and they’re giving up the most goals (3.92).
“I guess Christmas comes at a good time right now,” forward Frans Nielsen said. “Just to get away from it a little bit and try to think about something else. We were a step behind all night (in Sunday’s 5-2 loss to Arizona), and we’ve been that a lot of games this year.
“Something has to happen. Hopefully we can recharge the batteries a little bit. We have to look better coming back from this break.”
One of the areas where the Wings need a dramatic change is playing with increased confidence.
In recent weeks the Wings have let an opposing team’s goal demoralize them. Suddenly what was a 1-0 deficit becomes 2-0 and then 3-0.
Blashill believes that if the Wings can learn to play with a “short memory” it will reduce some of that snowball effect.
“We’re letting goals weigh us down,” Blashill said. “That’s where we’ve talked a lot of different times this year, that we have to have a short memory.
“We have to keep continuing to find ways to not let that bother us. At the end of the first (period Sunday) we’re down 2-0, and we’re fine. It’s unfortunate they come and score right away, and it’s 3-0.
“Those are bigger holes to dig out of.”
Hronek’s bigger role
With defenseman Danny DeKeyser (back surgery) likely done for the season, it’s meant a larger role for Filip Hronek.
Hronek is leading the team at 23:13 of ice time per game, is fourth on the team with 19 points (including seven goals) and has, in essence, taken over as the team’s No. 1 defenseman.
The increased responsibilities haven’t shaken Hronek at all.
“He’s handled himself very well,” Blashill said. “He’s grown as a player. He’s gotten better and better, and he’s real competitive.
“What I like about him is when things go well, he doesn’t melt. If he has a bad game, he’ll come back and play a good game. If he has a bad shift, he’ll come back and have good shift. That’s a huge quality for success.
“He’s a real bright spot, he’s going to be a real good defenseman in this league.”
The Wings will know more Friday about the status of forward Anthony Mantha (upper body) and goalie Jonathan Bernier (groin). Both were hurt during Saturday’s loss in Toronto.
Of the two, Bernier is likely to return sooner – Mantha is on injured reserve and isn’t eligible to return before Sunday’s game in Tampa – but would need to practice Friday to show he’s ready.
The Wings returned goalie Calvin Pickard, defenseman Brian Lashoff and forward Filip Zadina to Grand Rapids Monday, but those were likely paper transactions to offset salary-cap issues.