Red Wings fail defensive test against offensive Avalanche
Denver — The Colorado Avalanche are a powerful offensive team, the best scoring team in the NHL, and for an opponent, there is no better team to test yourself defensively.
The Red Wings had their opportunity Friday, lost 7-3, and came away knowing there's a lot of work to do defensively.
"It was a litmus test for us defensively and we know we have to grow and get better," coach Jeff Blashill said.
The Wings (13-12-3) have lost their last three games, and have been outscored 18-7 in the process. They continue to have difficulty winning away from Little Caesars Arena, with a dismal 4-9-1 record.
"I've talked about it a lot — when you're on the road you have to be great defensively and you have to manage the puck great to win," said Blashill, who added the Wings haven't been overly great in those two areas lately at LCA either. "Those two areas, if we want to be a team that can with both on the road at home, we have to do better at. It's a lesson our guys are learning."
To have any sort of success Friday, it was important for the Wings to have a good start and keep the Ball Arena crowd — which, incidentally, had a large segment of Wings fans, Detroit natives who arrived early for the Lions' game here Sunday — out of the equation.
But the Avalanche scored three quick goals in just over 10 minutes, and the rout was on.
"They're a premier offensive team, you give them time and they'll roll around and make plays," forward Dylan Larkin said. "You have to find a way to grind out your shift and stay tight and we just got beat on our assignments, and especially early.
"It was a disastrous start and you can't have that kind of start in this building."
How ironic was it Friday when Darren Helm, the former, long-time Red Wings forward, scored on a breakaway, a play that never seemed to turn out good for Helm in Detroit, and against his former team, no less?
Helm's goal gave the Avalanche a 3-0 first period lead just 10:49 into the game, and drove goaltender Thomas Greiss out of the game.
This was the first game for Helm, 34, against the Wings, a team he spent parts of 14 seasons with.
"It's home," said Helm earlier Friday, of the Detroit area. "I've spent a lot of my time there, raised three girls there, I'm sure that's where we'll end up when I retire. It's a great city, the fans are great.
Helm became an unrestricted free agent in July and signed a one-year contract worth $1 million. Helm has four goals and two assists with the Avalanche, with an even rating, and has supplied the defensive, checking role seamlessly into Colorado's offensive-heavy lineup.
With the Wings playing in Denver on the back end of a back-to-back (in St. Louis the previous night), Helm had no chance to meet up with his former teammates other than quick hellos after the game.
Helm said he continues to keep in touch with Dylan Larkin and Danny DeKeyser, "guys I probably played the longest there with, the (training and equipment) staff are a lot of the same guys since I've been there 10 or 14 years ago.
"But the team has changed a lot over the last few years."
The rebuild over the last few seasons was difficult, said Helm, but he's glad the Wings have begun to see positive results this season.
"I'm excited for them the way they've been playing, it was a tough few years losing that many games," Helm said. "But you just go to work and do your thing and try to get better. It's great to see they're taking strides again this year and they're a team that keeps growing.
"It seems like (Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond) are good kids, and hopefully with those two and Larks (Larkin) and a few other guys, they'll be a good team and continue to grow."
The more emotional game for Helm, he admitted, might be later this month, Dec. 20, when the Avalanche visit Little Caesars Arena.
"Going back to Detroit will be a little harder," Helm said. "But just play a game and go to work."
... Vladislav Namestnikov's goal Friday was his 100th career goal. It also gave him nine this season, after scoring all of eight last season in 53 games.
... The Wings-Avalanche rivalry isn't nearly what it used to be in terms of energy and emotion, and it's also become one sided. The Avalanche have now won seven straight games against the Wings and five straight in Denver in the series.
... Blashill expects to have forward Tyler Bertuzzi (COVID protocol) back in the lineup Tuesday against the New York Islanders. Bertuzzi missed the last five games. Blashill wasn't yet sure about the status of defenseman Marc Staal (COVID protocol), who has missed the last three games.