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Woebegone Wings lose fifth straight, fall to Avalanche

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Denver — The Red Wings kind of played right into the Colorado Avalanche’s hands and it proved, predictably, costly.

The high-powered Avalanche put 45 shots on goaltender Jimmy Howard, basically wore down the Wings as the game went along, and earned a 6-3 victory.

Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, right, was busy on Monday, making 40 saves, but it wasn't enough to beat the Avalanche.

The Red Wings mustered three goals Monday — they’ve only scored eight goals in the last five games, all losses — but didn’t do enough defensively to quiet the Avalanche.

“A lot of chances and goals were from us not coming back into our zone, it’s not good enough,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “We knew coming in, a team like this, we were going to have to defend a lot. But we didn’t come back (defensively) and sort it out enough.”

The Wings lost forward Frans Nielsen and defenseman Mike Green to upper-body injuries before the midway point of the game, and that didn’t help matters either.

“The second period, we couldn’t get out of our end and all of a sudden you’re spending a whole bunch of time defending,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We lost (Nielsen, Green) … and it just taxed our guys a lot.

“There’s a whole bunch of defending and suddenly we didn’t have our skating legs — and that’s a hard team not to have your skating legs against.”

That’s five consecutive losses for the Wings (12-34-4), who close out the pre-All Star break portion of their schedule — there's only 32 games left after Monday's result — Wednesday in Minnesota.

BOX SCORE: Avalanche 6, Red Wings 3

“Losses wear on you, and it starts to hurt your energy a little bit,” Blashill said. “We have to be real careful of that, we have to find a way to have great energy in our last game before the break and get ourselves rejuvenated coming back out of the break.”

Tyler Bertuzzi, who will be the Wings’ representative at All-Star weekend, scored his 16th goal, Larkin his 13th and Givani Smith his second.

Nazem Kadri scored two goals for Colorado (one a power play), as did Nathan MacKinnon (including an empty-net goal, his 30th), while Matt Nieto and Ryan Graves had the others.

The Avalanche outshot the Wings, 46-25, a testament to goaltender Jimmy Howard’s workload and his ability to keep the Wings close for the most of the afternoon.

That’s three consecutive games Howard has started and looked better than he has all season.

“He was excellent, he gave us a chance,” Blashill said. “We wouldn’t have been in the game if he hadn’t played as well as he did.

“The last three games, he’s been on top of his game.”

Larkin stripped the puck from defenseman Nikita Zadorov behind the net, and fed Bertuzzi in the slot to give the Wings a 1-0 lead.

But the Avalanche roared back in the second period, with Kadri (power play) and MacKinnon scoring 1:54 apart.

Kadri tied it, deflecting Cale Makar’s shot from the point at 1:02. Then it was Makar again doing the legwork on the second goal, finding MacKinnon alone at the post.

Colorado scored two quick goals again to open the third period, a season-long problem that hurt the Wings again.

“Momentum is a big deal,” Blashill said. “We have to make sure the next shift is a better momentum shift.”

Larkin scored his 13th goal and assisted on Smith’s goal late in the third period, giving Larkin 10 points in the last 10 games.

Larkin now has 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) on the season, trailing Bertuzzi by one point.

“It’s confidence,” said Larkin, who admitted his play slipped before the Christmas break. “When you don’t have it, you’re afraid to have the puck on your stick. It comes back to wanting the puck on your stick and moving my feet and playing with great linemates and getting all the opportunity I could ask for.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan