By: Will Burchfield
The Red Wings surrendered two shorthanded goals in their 4-3 loss to the Devils on Tuesday night, one of which Jeff Blashill blamed on a clear lack of effort.
“The first one, to me, was 100 percent unacceptable, 100 percent junk. We’ve got a 1-on-1 that we can make a 3-on-1 for us and we float back up the ice. That’s 100 percent unacceptable,” Blashill said.
On the play in question, neither Gustav Nyquist nor Anthony Mantha bothered to backcheck after New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri had picked up a loose puck at Detroit’s blue line, allowing Palmieri to challenge Niklas Kronwall one on one. Palmieri shed Kronwall and then slid the puck beneath a sprawled-out Jared Coreau to give the Devils a 2-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game.
Nyquist looked toward the rafters as Mantha retrieved the puck out of the net and flicked it toward center ice in frustration.
Blashill condemned the breakdown as “an effort thing and a mentality, as much as anything, of being proactive.”
The loss dropped the Red Wings to dead last in the Eastern Conference, although the bottom seven teams in the standings are separated by just seven points. The tightness of this race and the Wings small margin for error is why they can’t afford to take plays off.
“We’re probably right there with lots of other teams, and every single night it’s a 50-50 game in terms of putting yourself in position to win. So we’ve gotta do all the little things as right as possible,” Blashill said.
“Going back to the second goal against, we’ve gotta make sure that we’re doing everything right there, we’ve gotta make sure that we’re 100 percent right. We can’t leave anything to chance, and that play we left it to chance.”
Blashill didn’t sense a lack of effort on the Devils’ third goal, when Palmieri beat Justin Abdelkader through the neutral zone, took a cross-ice pass from Taylor Hall at Detroit’s blue line and snapped a shot from the high slot past Coreau’s blocker.
“It’s a physical thing where a guy just kind of got out skated,” Blashill said, referring to Abdelkader. “I think he was a little bit at the end of his shift. Like lots of teams in the league, we try to hold the blue line pretty hard with our D and it was Taylor Hall who made a heck of a play there.”
But Blashill was plenty disappointed in the way the Wings started the game. After stressing the need to come out fast, they gave up two early goals and were hemmed in their own zone for long stretches of play in the first period.
“Not good enough, for certain. We’ve gotta come out and have a better start than that,” Blashill said. “We mismanaged the puck, and when you you mismanage the puck that puts you on your heels. That’s what happened.”
Tomas Tatar struggled to explain it, especially with the Wings fresh off a five-day vacation.
“You’re looking for words and it’s tough to find,” he said. “We didn’t start on time, that’s for sure, and they just played better…At the end of the game we (gave) enough effort, but to win a game you need to play 60 minutes.”
Captain Henrik Zetterberg shouldered the blame.
“We should (have) come out a little more ready, that’s on me,” he said.
Said Tatar, “It’s on us.”
Either way, the Wings’ slow starts are becoming a glaring trend.
“I think it’s a fact,” Blashill said. “I mean, regardless of how I feel we play or anything like that, the fact is that we’ve given up way too many goals in the first and we’ve got to chase the game too much.”
The Wings have surrendered the third most first period goals (49) in the NHL and have been trailing at the first intermission in seven of their past 11 games. Playing from behind is starting to wear on the players.
“It’d be nice to have a lead,” said a weary Tatar. “It’s just hard to be behind all the time…In the NHL when you’re always behind, it costs you too much energy to catch up. That’s why we lost today.”
In part, at least. But they also lost because two forwards slacked off on a critical play, spurning the message that Blashill has preached from the getgo.
“For us to be a great hockey team,” he said earlier this season, “we’re going to have to have ultra, ultra, ultra compete. We can’t have good compete.”
The Wings didn’t have any compete on the Devils’ second goal of the night, and it ultimately cost them the game. Therein lies the difference between this Wings team and so many great Wings teams of old: the safety net of talent is gone.