Red Wings' first road trip of season will be new 'reality'

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Red Wings are ready to embark on a new NHL challenge: an actual road trip.

What was usually a fairly standard part of the daily business has changed dramatically in a pandemic.

After playing their first four games at home, the Red Wings finally hit the road for two games in Chicago.

The NHL has issued a travel protocol to teams establishing guidelines from meals, how to go about a hotel stay, air and bus travel, and making sure sanitizer is available everywhere you’d need it.

In all, it sounds like it’ll be a lonely existence.

“At the end of the day, it’s the sacrifice to play the game right now,” said forward Anthony Mantha, who has heard from other friends around the league how life on the road is now “bad."

Many Red Wings would go in groups to dinners the night before a game, or non-game day evening, during an extended road trip.

That’s out now. Meals are to be delivered through a service, or will be provided at the hotel.

Walks are allowed, but masks have to be on at all times.

“A lot players will be bringing their laptops and Xboxes and download movies and shows,” said Mantha, adding "Yellowstone" will be the series on his bucket list. “That’s the reality we live in right now.

“We usually go have a good dinner the night before the game, six or eight of us, on road trips. Obviously this is going to be different. Room service and Uber Eats all year.

"It'll be time to learn things or do different things this year."

Routines generally will be upended this season.

More: OctoPulse podcast: Red Wings (2-2) off to Chicago, Murray Howe interview

Consider, the Red Wings in the past have normally traveled the day before a game on the road to get settled into the new city.

But the Wings stayed home Thursday and will fly to Chicago on Friday morning, the day of a game. They will not hold a morning skate Friday, either.

Coach Jeff Blashill said the move was made to eliminate one night at a hotel, and away from any potential exposures to the virus, and stay safely at home another evening.

“There’s no doubt it’s going to be strange,” Blashill said of the road experience this season. “There’s just a whole bunch of differences, and that’s going to be the reality.”

Blashill and many players, during training camp, talked about how they were fine with the restrictions on the road if it was a chance to get back to playing hockey.

Now that time has come.

“If we have a lot of restrictions on the road, so be it, so we can compete and play.” Blashill said. “We have to take as many precautions as possible and prevent the spread as much as we can and prevent any contact tracing.”

NHL teams have increasingly been jabbed with COVID-19 throughout the lineup. teams have had to cancel games and practices, and Washington was fined $100,000 for having four players congregate in a hotel room.

Blashill, tough, isn’t going to have his staff monitor players on the road.

“I’m a big believer in putting the onus on individuals and to be sure they’re responsible,” Blashill said. “I don’t run around town monitoring them during the year and I’m not going to do it on the road.

“Our guys have been real good overall. It’s not an easy battle. If it was easy, we wouldn’t be facing what we are facing around the world.”

Limited practice

The Wings currently have forwards Robby Fabbri and Adam Erne on the COVID-19 protocol list, and Blashill said neither will make this two-game road trip to Chicago and Dallas.

But it was interesting the Wings practiced in four separate, small groups — during different times of the Thursday morning and working out at both the main ice at Little Caesars Arena and the practice rink — something unusual for the regular season.

Blashill said "a couple" of players were unavailable to them for practice.

"As such, we made the decision to go with four small groups," Blashill said. "Beyond that, I can't really comment."

On Thursday night, forward Sam Gagner and defenseman Jon Merrill were placed on the NHL protocol list, basically ruling them out for, at minimum, the Chicago series.

Ice chips

Blashill said forward Darren Helm and defenseman Christian Djoos, both of whom have been on the protocol list but have begun practicing, could be available to play this weekend.

With Djoos, though, Blashill wanted to see the defenseman claimed off waivers to at least go through a full practice before entering the Wings' lineup.

... It's likely the Wings will stay with the lines they used Tuesday, meaning Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin would be spread among lines.

"As a group we defended much better," Blashill said. "We didn't create as much offense, there wasn't much offense (from either team) but it wasn't because of lack of compete or willingness. Both teams just defended real well, so that's a positive."

Red Wings at Blackhawks

Faceoff: 8 p.m. Friday, United Center, Chicago

TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM

Outlook: The Blackhawks (0-3-1) are plagued with injuries to C Jonathan Toews (undisclosed), C Kirby Dach (hand) and LW Alex Nylander (knee) ... Farmington Hills native LW Alex DeBrincat (two goals, one assist) is off to a good start.

Twitter: @tkulfan