Alex Lyon with TODAY bug 3

DETROIT -- At the start of the game, someone tossed on octopus onto the ice, the traditional symbol of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Detroit. At the end of the game, the Detroit Red Wings were booed off the ice.

That said it all.

The Red Wings raised hopes they'd make the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons by going 16-4-2 from Jan. 2-Feb. 27, building an eight-point cushion in the playoff race.

But with a 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday, they have lost seven straight games in regulation and been outscored 36-12 during the slump. Detroit (33-27-6) is below the cut line in the Eastern Conference.

They're tied in points with the New York Islanders, who hold the second wild card in the East but have a game in hand. The Washington Capitals are one point back with a game in hand. The Buffalo Sabres, three points back with one more game played, visit Little Caesars Arena on Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET; BSDET, NHLN, MSG-B, SN1).

"It's unacceptable," forward David Perron said. "It's as tough as it gets right now in the room. We've got to find a way to bounce back. We've got to find a way to get up and put our pride on the line and be better."

Perhaps some people got ahead of themselves.

"We thought maybe at times we were going to make some plays to get to the playoffs, but this league is too good," Perron said. "It keeps you honest, and I think that's what's happening a little bit to us right now."

Dylan Larkin has missed the past five games with a lower-body injury and is expected to miss at least two more. That is a big factor. Larkin is Detroit's captain and No. 1 center. He leads the team in goals (26) and is tied for the team lead in points (54) with forwards Alex DeBrincat and Lucas Raymond.

Still, that doesn't explain this.

"We have not handled our group very well with Dylan out, and there's no reason for that," coach Derek Lalonde said. "He's a special, special player. He's our engine a lot of nights. But we have a very capable group, a very capable lineup."

The biggest problem is defense. It has been a problem under the surface all season, masked by hot offense and goaltending, and it's showing now that the offense and goaltending have gone cold.

The Red Wings ranked 20th in the NHL in goals against per game (3.15) before this losing streak began Feb. 29.

When general manager Steve Yzerman spoke to the media after the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline on March 8, he said: "We've got to be a strong defensive team, and we've got to continue to work at that. In my opinion, that'll be the key for us going down the stretch here."

The Red Wings have given up 20 goals in four games since. They're now tied for 25th in the NHL in goals against per game (3.36) with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They're making too many mistakes and putting too much stress on goalie Alex Lyon, who isn't bailing them out like he was before.

Lyon, a 31-year-old veteran who has spent most of his pro career in the American Hockey League, had never played more than 15 games in an NHL season until this. He has played 27 of the past 31 games.

From Dec. 29-Feb. 27, he went 14-5-2 with a 2.86 goals-against average, .909 save percentage and one shutout. Since then, he has gone 0-6-0 with a 4.90 GAA and .855 save percentage.

"We have to be better defensively," defenseman Ben Chiarot said. "I think you see the chances that we give up. They're ones that shouldn't happen, especially at this time of year when everything should be rolling in the same direction.

"It should be like a machine by this point and just everyone knows exactly where they're supposed to be and being there at the right time, and we're not there yet, and we need to get there in a hurry."

The Red Wings ranked fourth in the NHL in goals per game (3.58) before this losing streak and are now seventh (3.38). They have 13 players in double digits in goals, most in the NHL. But Larkin is out, and they scratched forward Daniel Sprong, a 16-goal scorer, against Arizona because of his defensive play. It's March too.

"You don't get the same type of offense throughout the whole year," Perron said. "Tentative or not making plays or whatever it is, it's just different hockey at the start of the year. You don't outscore your problems all the way through the year. I just don't believe in that.

"I haven't seen a team recently winning the Stanley Cup that way. Over my whole career, I haven't seen that. And we've got to find a way to put a sound, solid game for 60 minutes that we can hang our hat to and be proud of it at the end of the day, and most of the time, we're going to have to allow less than two goals, three goals. That's what it is."

Detroit leads the NHL with 11 third-period comeback wins. That once seemed good, because the Red Wings never felt out of a game. Now it seems bad, because it means they're playing from behind too often, and it's unsustainable. They've lost their mojo.

"When we're playing well and things are going well for us, it doesn't really bother us," Chiarot said. "We know we're going to get the next goal. And right now, we've just kind of lost that confidence that we can do it. Fighting to get that back is what we need."

They best start Saturday.

"Just find a way, turn the page, zero in on the next game and go at it," Perron said. "Why not do it against the Sabres?"