By Will Burchfield
Three words popped up over and over again in the Red Wings’ locker room following their 2-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night: “Find a way.”
Almost always, they were preceded by two others: “We gotta.”READ MORE: Michigan Matters: Two Stars With Motor City Ties Lighting Up Entertainment World
Lately, the Wings haven’t – and they’re mired in a five-game losing streak as a result. Four of those defeats have come by two goals or less.
“We gotta find ways to win these games, not lose them,” said Justin Abdelkader. “Anytime you lose some games in a row, you gotta dig deep and find a way. It’s never easy to break a streak like that but we just gotta” – you guessed it – “find a way.”
Like muffled, broken records, the Wings stressed the need to spend more time in the offensive zone, throw more pucks on goal and get more traffic in font. They struggled in all of these areas against the Oilers, particularly in the third period.
Detroit managed just 11 shot attempts in the final 20 minutes. Only four of them reached the net.
“We didn’t spend enough time in the O-zone. I don’t think we made it hard enough on them, Abdelkader said. “Sometimes the best play is just to put it on net. We just gotta find ways to get pucks to the net, and find ways to win close games.”
Jimmy Howard, who was strong once again between the pipes, tipped his hat to the Oilers. He also demanded more from the Wings.
“You gotta give them credit. They did a good job of clogging up the middle on our forecheck and then in front, we couldn’t get to their net. But at the same time it’s no excuse. There’s gotta be some fight. Just get in there and crash and bang and get some ugly goals,” Howard said.
“I think we needed a little more jam out there,” he added.
For the second game in a row, the Red Wings wilted when they should have awoken. Both the Oilers and Winnipeg Jets arrived in Detroit having played an overtime game the previous night. Yet in the third period of both contests, it was the well-rested Wings who looked tired.READ MORE: 23rd Annual 'A Home For The Holidays At The Grove' Comes To CBS On Sunday, December 5th
The Jets outshot Detroit 13-6 in the final frame on Friday, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 5-3 win. And the Oilers, protecting a 2-1 lead on Sunday, held the Wings to four measly shots and not a single legitimate scoring chance as the final 20 minutes ticked away.
“It’s a little sour,” Howard said. “You feel like you definitely left something out there.”
Coach Jeff Blashill struck a more positive tone.
“I don’t know in either case, if you watched the tape with me, I wouldn’t necessarily say they got the better of us in both those periods,” he said. “We didn’t get the better of them either, so that’s a fair thing. We should get the better when they played the night before, I get that 100 percent.”
But the coach didn’t think the gap in performance was all that wide.
“In the last two games, we’re talking about tiny, tiny margins of difference. We gotta find a way to turn those margins in our favor. That’s the biggest thing. Even if you go over the last four or five games here, they’re not huge differences, they’re tiny differences, no different than when we we’re winning. Tiny differences. So we gotta find a way to turn those differences in our favor,” said Blashill.
Detroit’s six-game win streak toward the end of October has been all but nullified. If the Wings lose again on Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers, it may as well have never happened.
“We’re all big-time disappointed, we’re frustrated,” Blashill said. “But you gotta put that behind us, you got no time for that at all.
“We gotta,” (fill in the blank) “to get better and,” (fill in the blank) “to go into Philly and win.”MORE NEWS: MDHHS Updates COVID-19 Quarantine Guidance For Michigan Schools
If only it were that simple.