'We had chances': Red Wings desperate for answers as losses pile up
Detroit — Whatever momentum the Red Wings had ahead of their prolonged pre-holiday break has disappeared.
The Wings looked like a team capable of surprising the NHL, ending play on Dec. 18 with an inspired victory over the New Jersey Devils despite the lineup beginning to be thinned by COVID-19.
Since returning from that 12-day hiatus, things have cratered.
Thursday's 3-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets kept the Wings winless in their last four games (scoring five goals in four games, shut out twice). They have lost six of seven games. Positivity has disappeared.
The Wings inability to score has been crushing.
Detroit has scored two or fewer goals in five of its last seven games. They've been shut twice during that span. Thursday's shutout was an NHL-worst fifth.
"We showed up, we just didn’t show up on the scoreboard," forward Dylan Larkin said of the Wings' effort Thursday, on the heels of a West Coast trip. "That’s where it matters. We have to find ways to score.”
The power play, a sore spot for the last several seasons, has now sunk to 31st (out of 32 teams) with a 14% success rate.
The unit was particularly disappointing against Winnipeg, going goal-less in five attempts, including at a key junctures. The Wings came up empty on two-man and three-man advantages (when goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic pulled).
The Wings had some decent scoring opportunities, but not good enough to solve Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, the Commerce native.
"We have to find a way to score," coach Jeff Blashill said. "It’s 1-0 (in the third period), we get a power play, we had some looks, but we don’t score. Then they come down and score. That power play generated opportunities. We just have to find a way to score.
"If you keep generating them, you’ll score eventually and that’s what we need.”
Larkin expressed frustration over the drought.
“We had chances," he said. "We’re looking at ways to solve some of these issues, but our process was good, it just didn’t go in the net. We have a find a way to put it all together and start getting some results.”
The Wings rank 25th in the NHL, with 2.63 goals per game. Many individuals are mired in slumps.
Rookie Lucas Raymond got off to an incredible start, but hasn't scored a goal in the last 14 games. Filip Zadina hasn't scored in 13 games. Robby Fabbri has one goal in his last nine games.
Michael Rasmussen has done well in broadening his game, but he has one goal in the last 10 games. Pius Suter had three goals in his last 16 games.
Nick Leddy, expected to produce an offensive spark on defense, has one goal and nine assists (with a team-worst minus-19 rating). Adam Erne, after a career-high 11 goals last season, only has three this season.
Too often this campaign, the secondary scoring after the top line of Raymond, Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi has been spotty. But right now, it's been largely nonexistent.
The playoffs are a neat dream. Almost halfway through the season, there's too much hockey left to totally dismiss that notion.
But the Wings suddenly trail the red-hot Boston Bruins by seven points for the second and final wild-card spot. The Bruins also have four games in hand. It's going to be a long, hard climb just to keep pace.
How do the Wings escape this spiral and start scoring goals?
"I generally don't keep an eye on the standings much at all," Blashill said. "There's a lot of things in the standings that are out of your control. What is in your control is how you play.
"It's not to say it's not important. We understand that's what dictates who gets to play in the playoffs, and we understand that for sure. But we want to make sure what we can focus on, what we can control.
"We have to keep focused on playing our best hockey and growing as a team."
With Thursday's loss, the Wings slipped below the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 20, when they were 8-9-3.
... Prior to Thursday’s game, Larkin was named an NHL All-Star for the second time in his career, earning a spot on the Atlantic Division roster for the first time since his 2015-16 rookie season. The honor comes exactly one year after being named the 37th captain in Red Wings franchise history.
Sabres at Red Wings
►Faceoff: 7 p.m., Saturday, Little Caesars Arena
►Outlook: The Sabres (11-19-6) are coming off an impressive 4-1 road victory Thursday in Nashville. ... The Sabres have only won three of their last 10 games (3-4-3). ... Injuries have decimated Buffalo's goaltending. G Aaron Dell (3.87 GAA, .887 SVS) is the fifth the Sabres have used this season. ... LW Jeff Skinner (13 goals) and RW Kyle Okposo (23 points) lead offensively.