Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils was a prime example of the type of game the Detroit Red Wings must win in order to turn their playoff dreams into reality.
If earning a wild card postseason place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference is on the club’s list of things to do – and naturally, the players insist to a man that it is – then they can’t be squandering points against other teams who are operating with the same mindset.
So far this season, Detroit is merely treading water in that regard. in fact, Wednesday’s setback pushed their collective heads under water.
The Red Wings are now 6-7-2 in games against teams who came into Wednesday’s NHL action wiith between 38-49 points. We excluded the Tampa Bay Lightning from the equation, because if anyone thinks the Lightning are going to be fighting for a wild card place at season’s end, then they really haven’t been paying attention the past few seasons.
Detroit’s loss to the Devils left the Red Wings 0-2-1 in the season series. New Jersey won both games at Little Caesars Arena by a combined margin of 11-3.
Tonight's final. pic.twitter.com/kNbJ78qiIT
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) January 5, 2023
“This is a winnable game,” Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde suggested, despite the one-sided final scoreline. “It’s frustrating because, throw out the (Detroit’s) seven overtime games. The 16 wins and the 13 losses, there’s definitely a little theme in there.
“We have to defend. We only give up 8-10 chances, which we did tonight. But we lost the special teams and didn’t create any offense.”
The Red Wings aren’t the Lightning or the Toronto Maple Leafs. Run and gun is a suicide mission for them. They’re 3-12-3 this season when fishing four or more pucks out of their net.
Falling Behind Is Taxing On Red Wings
In one sense, it’s a credit to Detroit that the club is 3-2 over the past five games, because the Wings have spent most of the time in those contests chasing the game.
Wednesday marked the third time in four games that the Red Wings found themselves surrendering at least the first four goals. They’ve fallen behind in all five games and trailed by multiple goals in four of the games.
“We’re not built like that,” Lalonde said. This was a little bit different. We emphasized a good start today and I thought we got it. Unfortunately we’re still at 0-0 (after the first period).
“It’s been a really tough read over the last three games. I think we’ve been outscored 7-0 in the first period but our play was actually pretty good.”
That being said, Lalonde is well aware that playing catch-up hockey eventually catches up with a team.
“You’ve got to be somewhat careful, but the bottom line is we come out of those and we don’t score a first-period goal,” Lalonde said. “It’s not comfortable trailing and they’re not a comfortable team to trail, because they will get you in transition.”
Red Wings Talking Playoffs
The P-word is being prominently mentioned within the confines of the Detroit dressing room. Captain Dylan Larkin can’t remember the last time when the subject was so frequently and confidently broached in the Red Wings room.
“Playoffs is talked about,” Larkin admitted. “We haven’t talked about it too much in the past.
“The conversation is there, we understand where we’re at.”
Today, Detroit sits seven points back of the New York Islanders, who hold the final playoff spot in the East. However, Detroit is showing three games in hand.
There’s justifiable cause for hope. Robby Fabbri was back Wednesday. He’s been out all season following knee surgery. Tyler Bertuzzi (broken hand) and Filip Zadina (broken ankle) are both about a week ago from playing. That’s 57 goals from last season being welcomed back into the fold.
However, if they continue to dig themselves into holes and finish up on the wrong end in key games against other clubs in that wild card vicinity, then it will soon once again be time for the Red Wings to postpone any talk of postseason participation until next year.