'Something has to give': Slumping Wings suffer 11-2 setback in Pittsburgh

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Pittsburgh — There are only 16 games left for the Red Wings this season.

Only 16 more, and this recent stretch of ugly, dispiriting hockey is going to be done.

For most of Sunday, fans must have hoped those 16 games would speed by in fast-forward.

The Wings were outclassed, broken and beaten by the Pittsburgh Penguins, 11-2, in another of the line of stinker performances that have been put out there by the Wings this last quarter of the season.

It was enough of a bad effort all the way around that it was fair to question whether the message was getting through from coach Jeff Blashill and his staff to the players.

Blashill and captain Dylan Larkin insisted it was.

“We’re all in this together, coaches, training staff and players, we’re all in this together,” Larkin said. “We have a lot of young guys that haven’t been in this position before and we don’t want those young players to be in that position again. The focus has been on what we’re going to do to get better, so it doesn’t happen.

“Something has to give, and it starts with the players and that’s my message.”

Red Wings prospects Simon Edvinsson, Elmer Soderblom continue to make big strides

Blashill feels the will is there from coaches and players to get through this ugly stretch.

“None of us were good enough tonight,” Blashill said. “Us, them, nobody. To me, you battle through this stuff together. We’ll have to battle through this together. We have to find a way to together to get out of this.

“We’re going to keep grinding like crazy to make us a better hockey team, that’s what I know.”

Eleven goals allowed was a season-high but it was the second time in a month — exactly a month, Feb. 26 against Toronto, a 10-7 loss — the Wings had allowed double-digit goals in a game. They’ve allowed nine goals, a seven-goal game, and two six-goal games in that span, as the defensive side of the rink, and often the goaltending, has failed them.

BOX SCORE: Penguins 11, Red Wings 2

The Wings have allowed a staggering seven or more goals nine times this season. No other team has allowed that many more than five times.

“As a group we haven’t been nearly good enough,” Blashill said. “We all have to look in the mirror and figure out how over the next how many games we have left to not allow this to happen. If you check well you’re in games and if you don’t check well, and you’re off your game, you get crushed that’s what is going on right now.”

The Wings trailed 2-0 after one period and 7-2 after 40 minutes, before further losing control in the third period.

Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, getting his second start in two days, allowed seven goals on 22 shots, while Calvin Pickard allowed four in relief (on 13 shots). Nedeljkovic returned in the third period after Pickard was injured.

Larkin (power play, his 28th goal) and Jakub Vrana (sixth) had Wings goals, after Pittsburgh had built a 6-0 lead.

“It’s not acceptable,” Larkin said. “We really can’t play like that or show up like that the rest of the season here. It’s going to get worse and we’ll get embarrassed every night. We have a couple days to figure it out.

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) blocks a shot during the first period.

“We can’t show up like that and not be prepared to have the will to compete and fight back.

“The emotion wasn’t there and our compete level wasn’t there.”

Pittsburgh scored by way of four power-play goals, a shorthanded tally and six even-strength goals. The Penguins won the specialty-teams battle and every other category imaginable.

Blashill felt the Wings were cheating for offense too much.

“There’s no room for error in this league and if you don’t play the right way, you’re going to pay unless you get bailed out,” Blashill said. “We didn’t play the right way. We cheated for offense, we hoped for offense, and when you do that you leave yourself vulnerable for attack the other way and that’s what happened.”

A lot of Penguins (40-17-10) boosted their offensive statistics.

Evgeni Malkin returned after missing the last game with illness and didn’t look sick at all with three goals and an assist. Sidney Crosby had a goal and two assists. Kris Letang had three assists and Bryan Rust (Troy/Birmingham Brother Rice) had a goal and two assists.

“We have an emotional game last night (2-1 overtime loss to Tampa) and we have a quick turnaround against another great team and it’s hard in sports to find that same emotional level,” Larkin said. “Especially in hockey you have to find a way to show up the next night. We didn’t have the same emotion.”

The Wings (26-32-8) have only won three of their last 15 games (3-10-2) and have been plagued by bad defense and goaltending in an increasing amount of games.

This was one of the worst, though, as they often made things too easy for the Penguins.

“We can’t have breakdowns that lead to constant odd-man rushes for the other team,” Larkin said. “We don’t want soft goals to go in, we can’t allow big-time chances that continue to keep coming at our goalies.”

The Wings fell behind early, and it was Pittsburgh’s depth that did the scoring, not its top lines.

And it got progressively much worse from there.

“It’s hard to go through, obviously, but we’ve got to look in the mirror and you are what you do in life, and tonight we were not good enough,” Blashill said.


Twitter: @tkulfan