Improving defense, stringing together points key for Red Wings in second half

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Get better, accumulate points, improve defensively.

If there are boxes to check for the Red Wings' in the second half of the season, those are the top items as the team reaches the halfway point Friday against Dallas. The second-half march, toward the finish line, starts Saturday in Nashville.

Coach Jeff Blashill sets a simple goal in the short term.

Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill measures his team in five-game segments.

"I want to win Friday," Blashill said.

The Wings are aiming to build on their first-half momentum. They enter Friday's game with a better than .500 record (18-17-5), within five points of the second wild-card spot (Boston has played four less games). Detroit has established home-ice advantage at Little Caesars Arena, while struggling to win on the road.

"We've got some stretches coming up of playing some tough opponents, including this weekend," Blashill said. "It's a constant opportunity to measure yourself. I don't think there's a measuring game, but a constant opportunity to see where we're at. We've played both teams already and lost to both of them. One game doesn't make or break you. But how have we improved, and how have they improved."

Blashill doesn't look at the season in halves, or quarters, or monthly. Rather, he views it in five-game segments. The goal is to earn approximately six points in each segment (out of a possible 10). If a team can do that, it'll accumulate 96 points by the end of the season, which normally gets you into the playoffs.

More: Red Wings midseason report: Cool kids Raymond, Seider, Nedeljkovic inject life into lineup

The Wings entered Friday's game with a 41 points, seven points shy of where they'd like to be.

If they are able to focus on the segments and string some positive ones together in the second half, the end result will take care of itself.

"We want to be a playoff team, and that's not going to change," Blashill said. "We talk about where we're at within our segments, trying to make sure we earn those points that you need to earn.

"For me, it's about doing the right things and if you do the right things, it leads into spots where you want to be."

An improved defense could help the Wings accumulate points.

The Wings rank 23rd allowing 3.23 goals per game. That's a bit worse than last season's 3.00 goals allowed per game, which ranked 20th at season's end.

"We're not quite as good defensively as we were a year ago," Blashill said. "We have to keep getting better defensively, understanding that every playoff team, every team that wins, is in the upper tier of defensive categories statistically."

The Wings have more young players in significant roles this season which partly explains the defensive issues. As the final months of the season approach, Blashill is hopeful the experiences learned will benefit the Wings.

"Learning how, on a nightly basis, how to make sure you limit those big mistakes and defend properly," Blashill said. "That's an area where we can keep getting better."

Blashill has seen progress in an important area of the roster from a year ago.

"The confidence and the knowledge of what it takes to win is continually improving," Blashill said. "That goes hand in hand. From different aspects every day, the competitive and sacrifice level both in games and practices. How to manage games and manage the puck, and finding ways to win hockey games. 

"With that comes confidence."

Smith brothers

Forward Gemel Smith is expected to join the Wings on Friday, after being claimed on waivers Wednesday from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Smith will join his brother Givani on the Wings' roster, although it's unclear if Gemel might play a few games in Grand Rapids first. He has not played this season due to an abdominal injury.

"Givani was excited," Blashill said. "He was working me last year to try to get Coop (Tampa coach Jon Cooper) to let Gemel play in the game when we were playing in Tampa so they could match up head to head.

"It (acquiring Gemel) gives an opportunity to add another player that can give us some depth. He's a guy who has played in a couple different organizations and has been able to step in and play. 

"He plays the center position, so it gives us more depth which is important. He's a good energy player, so we'll see where it takes us."

Ice chips

Blashill likes the schedule adjustments that were announced for the Wings' postponed games, filled in primarily in February. There will be gaps in the schedule, which will test balance between practice and rest.

"Our guys will be sick of practice," Blashill said. "There's unique challenges in there how we can handle it, how we approach it with our group. But it is nice to not have to play every other day and some practice time."

... Blashill said injured forward Carter Rowney (lower body) will skate on his own Friday but there's no timeline on a return. 

... Forward Jakub Vrana (shoulder surgery), who is yet to play this season, is skating on his own but hasn't been cleared for practice. Blashill is hopeful of a mid-February return to practice for Vrana.

"Until he gets clearance, he won't practice," Blashill said.

Twitter: @tkulfan

Stars at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m., Friday, Little Caesars Arena

► TV/radio:BSD/97.1 FM

Outlook: The Stars are 18-16-2. ... Dallas has the fifth-best power play in the NHL (23.6%). ... The Stars won the only other game between the teams this season. ... C Joe Pavelski, 37, continues to roll along, leading the Stars with 16 goals, 22 assists, 38 points.