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Red Wings look to pick up pace again after tough stretch

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — One way the Red Wings can help themselves get out of this recent rut is play faster.

For a team with a decent amount of speed, and one that had been playing aggressively for much of the season, the last two losses in particular have been perplexing.

Red Wings center Vladislav Namestnikov races the puck away from Coyotes left wing Matias Maccelli during the first period Tuesday in Detroit.

The Red Wings were dialed down, not playing at all with the pace they need to be successful.

“We’ve played slow the last couple of games, both with and without the puck, so we got to do a better job of that," coach Jeff Blashill said. “The focus is mainly on ourselves and making sure we play better hockey, making sure we do a better job of supporting the puck, making sure we do a better job of not giving up space."

Blashill was pleased with the way the Wings defended and limited time and space to quality opponents like Carolina and Tampa Bay last week. The commitment defensively, and again, the pace, was one that was up to the Wings' standards.

Decisions were crisp and made instantly.

In the last two losses, a split-second of indecision often has been costly.

"You can’t play hesitant or slow and that’s what we did," Blashill said "We did a good job defending against really good (teams). We got to get back to that.

“Our puck support has to be better. We have to do a better job of having it, and then just taking away space."

Defenseman Marc Staal noted how playing slow hockey can hurt a team in different ways.

"We’ve been slow, everyone is slow to close on players and when you’re not decisive in your own end it just causes confusion,” Staal said. “When the guy on the puck is hard and physical, everyone can read off that and everyone is moving. It makes it easier.”

Tough practice

Despite a relentless schedule and it being a day between two home games, the Red Wings practiced hard Wednesday — likely not surprising given Tuesday's lethargic loss.

There was an emphasis on net-front battles, and understanding the Wings need to play a certain way, attacking opponents, to be successful.

Blashill felt it was important to re-establish that way of thinking and for players to understand that Tuesday's effort was unacceptable.

“Some practices, you’re worried about energy for the next game,” Blashill said. “We have to make sure that everybody understands that’s (Tuesday's overall result was) not OK. Our guys got to find a way to grind through any workload that we put them through.”

Juolevi debut?

The was the defensive pairings were set, it appeared newly acquired defenseman Olli Juolevi was going to make his Wings debut Thursday against Minnesota.

Juolevi was paired with Troy Stecher, and the two likely were replacing Jordan Oesterle and Gustav Lindstrom.

The Wings claimed Juolevi off waivers Sunday from Florida. The former 2016 fifth-overall pick of Vancouver has struggled in the NHL with the Canucks and Panthers, but the Wings are hoping a fresh start with the Wings, and being in an environment with other young players learning the NHL, will help Juolevi.

“He was a high pick for a reason, so I’m certain that there’s a skill-set there that allowed him to get picked high,” Blashill said. “Has he learned lessons along the way? Those lessons can be in a lot of different areas. It might be how to keep your confidence when the pressure is high like it is in the NHL. Mental toughness and perseverance, maybe that’s a part of it.

"Is it more hockey stuff, like learning to defend better? Is it learning to play to your strengths better? Those are things that sometimes it takes a guy a few teams to get to that point and they flourish. It doesn’t happen always, but we hope that’s the case.”

Ice chips

Blashill said forward Tyler Bertuzzi (non-COVID illness) was a game-time decision for the Wild contest.

... Blashill said he spoke to general manager Steve Yzerman after Tuesday's loss and again Wednesday.

“I’m not going to go into our conversations necessarily,” Blashill said. “I don’t think that’s fair, nor do I think I need to do that. (Immediately after Tuesday's loss) was pretty evident what anybody would have thought watching our game.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan