Red Wings slogging through familiar struggles on offense

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Red Wings last season struggled badly to score goals.

It was supposed to be better this season, with the maturation of Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin, Filip Zadina, Robby Fabbri and Tyler Bertuzzi, and the addition of veterans such as Bobby Ryan, Sam Gagner and Vladislav Namestnikov.

Dylan Larkin leads the Red Wings with 11 points.

But, goals continue to be scarce.

Tuesday’s 2-0 shutout loss against Nashville was the second time in the last four games the Wings have been shut out. Over the last 13 games, the Wings have scored more than two goals just twice.

The Wings had the worst goals per game (2.00) in the NHL last season. So far this season, they’re last again at 1.86.

“You want to score and have the puck on your stick to make plays," Larkin said. "We've played good defense and we've had great goaltending, but to win games you have to score goals.

“We have to score goals."

The Wings have been playing better defensively, and lately have been in more low-scoring games.

But they aren’t scoring enough to earn more victories.

“I’m not comparing one year to the next,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We’re a better hockey team. We’re playing with more structure, and because of that, we’re in games. In lots of games I felt we had enough chances to score.”

The Wings’ difficulties on the power play — they rank last at 6.4% — contribute to the offensive woes, and puts pressure on the penalty kill, which has slipped to 29th (70.5%).

“It’s going to be extremely important we don’t give up goals on the PK because we aren’t scoring goals on the power play, and you can’t lose the specialty teams battle and expect to win,” Blashill said. “We need to score on the power play to put less pressure on the PK.”

No pressure

So, does the lack of scoring put pressure on goaltender Jonathan Bernier?

You'd think a goaltender would be thinking a little extra about not giving up goals with his team struggling to score. But Bernier doesn't concern himself with that aspect.

"That's out of my control, so if we score four or five a night or one, you just approach the game the same way and worry about your own job," Bernier said. "That's the nice part of being goalies, you just control one thing and that's yourself. You don't need to put extra pressure on how the team plays. 

"You have to find a way to stop pucks."

Bernier, arguably, was the Wings' most valuable player last season, and again is making an argument for that distinction with his play this season.

Bernier is also an unrestricted free agent after this season, and his name could be out there in trade discussions at the deadline, if a contender wants to fortify its goaltending or if there are injuries

There's no discussions about a new contract, Bernier said, but he indicated he wouldn't mind staying in Detroit beyond this season.

"I just go day by day and just work on my game," Bernier said. "But, obviously, I would love to stay here. But that's really another subject for another time, and out of my control."

Good luck

Blashill was in contact with former Wings coach Mike Babcock — Blashill was an assistant under Babcock for one season — after Babcock was named as new coach at the University of Saskatchewan last week.

Babcock was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and has been out of coaching, doing occasional television analysis. He was also a volunteer adviser for the University of Vermont hockey program.

Babcock grew up in Saskatoon, so he's returning home, and began his coaching career in Canadian colleges.

"I texted back and forth with Babs and congratulated him and certainly was happy for him," Blashill said. "I've loved every opportunity I've had in coaching, and certainly there's glitz and glamour at the NHL level, and there's different rewards at different levels.

"But the real, intrinsic reward of making impacts on young people's lives and helping them become better people and better players, it's a real cool thing to coach in college. He's going to coach a Canadian university and I did in an American university (Western Michigan), but either way, it's a good atmosphere and keeps you young being around college students.

"I was really excited for him and he'll enjoy himself."

Predators at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM

Outlook: The teams close out a two-game series, after Nashville (8-10-0) won Tuesday, 2-0. ... The Red Wings (5-13-3) have been shut out twice in the last four games. ... Nashville has yet to lose in regulation time at LCA (3-0-1).

Twitter: @tkulfan