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Despite dubious streak, Red Wings not panicking

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- The place people call "Hockeytown" hasn't seen anything like this in a long time.

The Detroit Red Wings have had some losing streaks in the past couple of decades, but combining it with the inability to score goals is just dumbfounding. They are currently on a six-game losing streak and averaging just a goal a game in that skid.

The Wings (5-5-1) are also sitting 13th in the Western Conference prior to Friday night's slate of games. Just looking at the conference standings on a dry-erase board inside the Detroit locker room is an exercise in the bizarre.

The Edmonton Oilers' logo is way up at the top, while Detroit's winged wheel is way down near the bottom -- seven points behind the Oilers.

"When is the last time that's been the case," a reporter wondered aloud. "Maybe ... 1990? 1989?"

That's how far and how fast things have gone south for the Red Wings in the early stages of this season. They're just 11 games into it and already staring down another "huge" game on Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks (5-5-3) -- a tough team with a good goalie that's also in the West's bottom seven (11th).

Henrik Zetterberg
Left Wing - DET
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 4
SOG: 48 | +/-: -6
Equally as frustrating is the way Detroit's been losing. The Wings are getting shots on goal, but appear to be squeezing their sticks so hard they're liable to snap in half before a single shot. Is it time to go the baseball route and do something crazy off the ice to break the spell?

"What ... like bringing in a live chicken or something?" quipped Wings goalie Jimmy Howard after Friday's crisp, abbreviated practice at Joe Louis Arena. "Oh, no. It's definitely not to that point."

Maybe not, but it's definitely past the point of normalcy.

Everybody continues to look for answers, but the truth is this team is now in uncharted territory -- not just by Red Wings standards but League standards. Losing 4-1 on Thursday to the Calgary Flames was a historic event, as it turned out.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first time in NHL history a team that started 5-0 has followed up with six or more consecutive losses. If not a chicken, maybe a bucket of KFC is in order ... or at least something to loosen their shirt collars.

"Maybe we should go home and watch some You Tube highlight clips ... see if that works for (Saturday)," joked forward Henrik Zetterberg, who again was part of some line shuffling at Friday's practice. "We just have to find a way to turn it around. We've got to go out and grind a game out and get two points on the board."

This is a particularly stinging slump for Zetterberg, who has just two goals and two assists with a minus-six rating. In fact, he and fellow star Pavel Datsyuk are a combined minus-11 on the season, which might be as confounding a stat as any regarding Detroit's free fall in the standings.


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It is weighing heavily on his mind and it's probably having a similar effect on the usually light-hearted Datsyuk, who wasn't around to speak with reporters on Friday.

"It's tough to not think about it, because you always get reminded of it," Zetterberg said. "But we've got to go through this, too. When we get through this, it will make us stronger. We've just got to find a way to get through it and then move on."

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock had a few suggestions on how to do it, before heading off on his daily run along the Detroit River.

"If you put the pressure of the world on you and you carry it around, you can't skate like that," he said. "The game is played loose and driving. It's called a hockey game and the reason is because it's a game. Play the game. Don't 'work' the game. Play the game. You can work hard, but you've still got to be loose enough to do that."

He said it also takes a narrower focus to get through hard times like these -- making sure to concentrate on the things that lead to winning rather than the winning itself.

"You win by focusing on the process," Babcock said. "If you're a scorer and you're not scoring and you focus on scoring, you ain't going to score. Focus on getting in the right spot. Focus on taking the body. Focus on getting to the net. Focus on shooting the puck. You do the little things right and everything looks after itself."

Babcock also mentioned to his team that the last time they went winless in six straight games (2008), the Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup.

"In saying that, I've never had a team that played this way and lost," said Babcock, whose team has only been thoroughly outplayed a couple of times. "We've just got to stick with it."

That message appears to be getting through, based on reactions from Wings players. Thursday's lone goal-scorer, Danny Cleary, said the Wings can and must use this trying time as a rallying point for the rest of their season.

"Right now it's not going good, but we're not going to hang our heads and feel bad for ourselves," Cleary said. "No one's going to feel sorry for us ... that much I know. We have to stick together. That's the main message."
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