Start of tough stretch reminds Red Wings of work still needed to be done
Detroit — Again, there are lessons to be learned to bridge the gap the Red Wings are encountering between a team on the rise and one that is a bona fide playoff team.
Monday's 7-4 loss in Minnesota, a Wild team that is firmly in the playoff chase and could be a contender to win the Stanley Cup, provided the Wings with another stark lesson on what needs to be done before truly beginning to talk playoffs.
Not all Wings were at their best, and the fact they badly lost the specialty teams battle and slipped defensively all contributed to the defeat.
And the Wings, on the fringes of a playoff race, cannot afford many more losses.
"We had a lot of guys not nearly on their 'A' game, and not just young guys, and we can't afford that," coach Jeff Blashill said. "We're going to play a whole group of teams here that are some of the upper-echelon teams in the league, and if you want to win you have to be close to your 'A' games as close as possible."
The Wings began a stretch Monday where they play seven of the top eight teams in the overall standings, a unique wrinkle in this segment of the schedule.
This stretch will go a long way in determining whether the Wings are a playoff team, or not. And provide this young Wings roster with a lesson on how difficult it is to win games this part of the season.
"The level of intensity will ramp up in these last 30 games," Blashill said. "Goals get harder to come by. We have to make sure we ramp our game up as well."
The Wings left Minnesota surely a bit frustrated. They jumped out quickly to a 2-0 lead, then saw Minnesota score five consecutive goals through early in the third period.
But only to see the Wings come within 5-4, and pressure to tie the game, only to see the Wild score two last-minute goals to seal the victory.
"We had our chances on the power play and we have to do our job there," forward Dylan Larkin said. "We battled. We got our first six-on-five goal in a while and it was our best six-on-five play that we’ve had. We had the puck and generated chances and attacked the net. We hung in there, but it was too little too late.
"I really think it was a game we could have won. I'm shaking my head right now and it's just not a good feeling. We understand the position we're in and we know we're not going to win every game, but I really felt it was a game we could have won.
"It comes down to the goals they scored, we had the puck on our stick and then it's going back the other way and they have two dangerous players to have that happen. (When) we're up 2-0 we have to find a way to come into the room after the first period with the lead."
Blashill focused on the Wings' inability to limit the Wild's scoring chances and being effective on specialty teams. Allowing three power-play goals Monday was not a recipe for success.
“To win on the road, you have to limit the opportunities of the other team,” Blashill said. “I’ve said that lots and I’ll continue to say it until we can do a better job of it. Part of that is killing penalties at critical moments, part of that is making sure you’re better defensively.
"You're not going to win on the road without a really good penalty kill and a power play that can smell blood and is timely and dangerous. Our power play has been going good, but we were super lackadaisical in the first period. That can't happen. We have to smell blood at that point and make sure we get another one on the board."
Defenseman Gustav Lindstrom scored his first NHL goal Monday in his 69th game in the league.
It was a fitting reward for Lindstrom, who has played sound defensive hockey and become a reliable option for the coaching staff on defense.
"He's a big defenseman who can defend well and makes a good first pass," Blashill said. "He can score. If he keeps shooting it, he can score. He’s a guy who can add some of that. I don’t think he’s going to add lots of offense, but he can be a guy who’ll play against big men and defend well.
"He has to keep working at his skating, which he is doing."