Porous defense a cause for concern for Red Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Dallas — There have been positives around this Red Wings team in the opening weeks of the season.

Rookies Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider have been better than expected. The Wings are more dynamic and exciting than they've been. The victories have fueled optimism and confidence that the organization may actually be on the other side of the rebuild.

Wings forward Dylan Larkin, left, reaches for the puck in front of Columbus Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner, center, and Red Wings defenseman Nick Leddy during the first period. Larkin said the Wings need to get better at closing out games.

But there has been one glaring issue that surfaced Monday in Columbus.

The Wings haven't been great defensively, and it showed in the 5-3 loss to the Blue Jackets.

"We talk about learning lessons while we're winning, but sometimes you have to get slapped in the face," coach Jeff Blashill said. "We got slapped in the face (Monday)."

The Red Wings rank 24th (out of 32 teams) in the NHL allowing 3.24 goals per game. That's not going to keep the dream alive of possibly stealing a spot in the playoffs.

For subscribers: Red Wings hit the road with lessons learned, victories banked

The Wings have been far too loose for the majority of the season. But victories have masked defensive miscues.

“We made a couple of mistakes and the next thing you know it slips away," Blashill said. "But we’ve got to play better hockey than we’ve been playing. We won a few games in the last little bit that we haven’t been playing quite good enough. We’re giving up too many chances.

"We have to be a better team defensively if we want to have success.”

What hurt Monday was the fact the Wings appeared to be in control twice, and let Columbus rally.

The second time, on Lucas Raymond's late goal, the Wings enjoyed a 3-2 lead with just over six minutes left.

But the Wings collapsed defensively.

"You get the lead late you have to buckle down and at the very least, make them earn it," Blashill said. "In those last two goals they didn't have to really earn it. We kind of gave it away. We have to be way better than that.

"You get the lead at under the six-minute mark, no way should you come away out of it without at least a point and most nights two (points)."

A victory Monday would have been a terrific way to begin this four-game road trip. Goaltender Thomas Greiss was strong most of the game. The Dylan Larkin line, and specifically, Raymond contributed. Raymond is dominating the NHL's rookie scoring race with 17 points in 17 games. Seider ranks second with 12 points.

Instead, the Wings were kicking themselves for not getting out of Columbus with any points.

"We gave up points," Larkin said. "For us to be a good team we have to learn to put this game away. We got another chance, up 3-2, and we don't come away with any point. It's frustrating right now.

"When we got the lead, we didn't keep our foot on the gas and keep playing and keep making it hard on them. Teams are too good to play half a game. You have to play a full 60 minutes.

"We made it far too easy for them."

Consistent goaltending

Greiss wasn't the reason the Wings' lost against Columbus. He stopped 33 shots, and had the Jackets frustrated through the first half of the game with a variety of fine saves.

Both Greiss and Alex Nedeljkovic continue to supply the Wings with solid goaltending.

“Our goaltending’s been there every night,” Larkin said. “We rely on them big time but we have to make it easier. We have to find ways when they’re swarming us to get pucks out, find a way to get an offensive zone shift to give them a breather.”

First goal

Forward Michael Rasmussen scored his first goal of the season Monday, a hopeful sign the big center is ready to roll offensively.

Rasmussen's line has been effective of late, with Vladislav Namestnikov doing the most damage. The line has forced the opposition to play much more defense than it would expect.

"A big way to shut them down is to make them play defense, and be good in the offensive zone," Rasmussen said. "We've done a good job of that and we have to keep going. It's a big role and and it's a big way to help our team, if we do get scoring opportunities."

Rasmussen's goal Monday was a long shot from the top of circle. But Rasmussen has been attempting to use his 6-foot-6 frame down low recently in an effort to help himself, and his linemates.

"No one wants to be stuck in the defensive zone," Rasmussen said. "So if we can get a cycle going and handle the puck, it tires them (the opposition) out and gets them frustrated."


Twitter: @tkulfan