Detroit – There is another aspect of Red Wings improvement that is noticeable and has been quite significant recently
The Red Wings, especially recently, have avoided those long, disastrous losing streaks that can seriously reduce a team’s chances of making the playoffs.
The last four times the Wings have lost a game? They won a game in each of the next four games, quickly snuffing out a losing streak and continuing to flirt with the .500 record they’ve typically reached all season (currently 23-22-6).
That latest example was losing Minnesota on Monday, a 7-4 loss to the Wild that looked worse on the scoreboard than on the ice – but coming back Thursday and beating the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, 3-2 in a shootout , and instill confidence for the rest of that tough seven-game streak against the top teams in the NHL standings.
“It’s important in this league not to get into a bad run, and that’s easier said than done,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We still have a tough time ahead of us, but it’s important to follow up defeats with wins. Sometimes there’s a snowball effect, but you play so much and you’ve lost five games in a row and you really lose position in the ranking.
“We’ve done a good job of (avoiding that) and we’re going to have to (keep going) but we’re going to have to race and find ways to win six or seven in a row. And again, it’s not easy.”
There are reasons why, or how, the Wings avoided those long losing streaks that have plagued them, especially in recent seasons:
► This roster showed the courage to come back after tough losses.
“It’s a testament to the fact that our guys have done a good job of having the mental toughness and coming back and acknowledging the urgency of the moment,” Blashill said. “We did that at the start of the game (Thursday). We were excellent and we made mistakes throughout, but we were excellent at the start.”
There have been many opportunities over the past few seasons to learn from crucial mistakes and to learn how to deal with defeat and learn from those losses. This season, the Wings seem to be applying all of those valuable hard-won lessons.
“Guys who have been here a little while are growing and maturing,” forward Sam Gagner said. “You look at what Bert (Tyler Bertuzzi) has brought this year and Larks (Dylan Larkin) and his maturity and growth and then you have our young players who have stepped up and played really well for us. We’re on the right If you look back a few years, we are in a much better position than we were.
► There have been improvements along the way. The Wings have scored in six of their last eight road games (4-2-2) and won at arenas in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York (Rangers), where wins haven’t come easy for the Wings in the past.
“I hope we understand that when we play good hockey, we can win,” said Blashill, who believes the Wings are gaining confidence away from Little Caesars Arena. “We have even better hockey in us. I’m confident that we can learn to play consistently, the style that we play, making sure we take care of the puck and play more in the offensive zone and try to be on top, if we can consistently, we can continue to be even more successful down the road.”
► The Wings’ overall talent on the roster is simply better than in recent seasons.
Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond are both candidates for Rookie of the Year, and Alex Nedeljkovic is not far behind. Bertuzzi, Larkin, Filip Hronek, Robby Fabbri and Pius Suter have taken another step forward in their careers, and the Wings have valuable veteran depth that has contributed a lot (Vladislav Namestnikov, Gagner, Marc Staal, Thomas Greiss)
“There’s an infusion of talent, so you’re in a better position to compete night to night,” Blashill said.
The Wings are 10-6 in overtime/shootout this season, indicating that overall skill level is having an impact.
“Guys who have played in these situations that wouldn’t have been there a year ago, like Nick Leddy, Moritz, Razor (Raymond), I’m also thinking of Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi and Robby Fabbri, those guys have improved, FIlip Hronek , in these situations. They learned to create without cheating for the attack. The shootouts are a bit different, I can’t say in particular why the shootouts were better (3-1), we are working on that the same way we worked on before, but different shooters.”
►The intriguing thing to watch these last two months of the regular season will be whether the Wings can sustain and improve on that growth and make a serious run for the playoffs.
They get a potentially valuable piece returning to the roster, striker Jakub Vrana (shoulder surgery), who has been out all season. Vrana could inject a layer of offense that could make them a dangerous team.
The standings are skewed with several teams around the Wings having three or four games in hand, but the games played column will even out by the end of the month.
Blashill thinks the best thing the Wings can do is simply rack up as many points as they can.
“We continue to put pressure on the teams above us trying to win as many games as possible,” Blashill said. “We have no control over whether other teams win their matches, and ongoing matches are great unless you win them. There are no guarantees. Matches can be worth six points, but they have to win all three of those games, and that’s not always easy.
“We just have to keep growing and improving, not just for now but for our future, and put pressure on the teams above us. You do this by playing good hockey and winning as many games as possible.
Said Gagner: “The coaching staff have done a very good job of preparing us and helping us improve and there are still areas of growth in our game that we need to continue to build on. But the progress has been terrific.”