Mike Babcock looked at the Red Wings' schedule in early September and immediately started planning for a rocky October.
"We played nine exhibition games in 12 nights, traveled to Sweden and went on a five game road trip for 11 days," Babcock told NHL.com Monday. "I knew all this before it started, but what do you do? Do you tell them it's going to be tough? Who cares?"
Nobody is feeling sorry these days for the Red Wings, who have also been handcuffed by key injuries to Johan Franzen
and Valtteri Filppula
and are now battling a flu-bug going around the team.
Defensemen Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall
and Jonathan Ericsson
all missed Monday's practice.
As the Wings prepare for the first of 14 games in November tonight at 7 at home against Boston (Versus, TSN), they find themselves third in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference with 13 points (5-4-3).
But Babcock, always a straight shooter, senses good things on the horizon for his beleaguered squad because there are some good vibes coming out of the Wings' recent road trip and 17 of their next 28 games are at Joe Louis Arena.
Detroit closed out its longest trip of the first half 2-1-2 thanks to a 3-1 victory Saturday night in Calgary. Babcock said it was their best game of the trip "because we got some saves early."
The Wings' lone regulation loss came in Colorado, but they outshot the Avalanche, 49-23. Craig Anderson made 48 saves for a 3-1 victory.
Babcock said Darren Helm
, who missed most of training camp and the first four games of the season with a shoulder injury, is starting to get on a roll and rookie Justin Abdelkader
played his best game of the season in Calgary.
"He looks like an NHL player instead of a kid in awe, which is important," Babcock said.
It helps, of course, that Pavel Datsyuk
had eight points on the trip, including 2 goals and 6 assists.
"People just underestimate how strong he is on his stick and what he can do in tight," Kris Draper told the Detroit Free Press of Datsyuk. "He's got a lot of confidence right now, and he's doing it all at both ends of the ice for us. When he's playing like that, he's a dominant hockey player, and that's exactly what we need from him."
Detroit outshot its opponents, 193-130, over the five games, including 70-43 in the third period. It staked Edmonton a 3-0 lead 12:24 into the game, but came back with a pair of goals in the second and three unanswered in the third to force a shootout it eventually lost.
"I think as a team we're skating way better than we were as a start and I think we're playing way better," Babcock said. "I haven't liked our goaltending and I thought as a group we have turned over the puck too much. In saying all that, we just went on the road and we did a lot of really good things. We got points in four out of the five games."
Babcock is a big believer in consistency, so the key to getting the Red Wings over the proverbial hump this season will be sticking to the plan.
"When you have done a lot of winning as a coach or a player you have some confidence that you know what should happen," he said. "Instead of changing your plan and deviating, you tend to be steady on the rudder and you just keep going."
He said he's had conversations about just that with captain Nicklas Lidstrom
and alternates Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg
. All three have re-affirmed his belief.
"They have all said the same thing to me, 'We're not that far off Babs, let's just keep going, keep going,' " Babcock said. "I think that's real important because if they're telling you this is no good, that is no good, this isn't working, than I think you've got some problems.
"We like our group," he added. "We think we have a lot of players that can still play better. We think our kids are coming. We just have to continue to work at being better offensively by being harder at the net, better defensively by giving up nothing, no turnovers, and we need better goaltending."
Yes, Chris Osgood and Jimmy Howard
have had their share of problems. The Wings entered the week eighth in the League in shots against per game (27.8), but 22nd in goals against per game (3.33).
They were able to win in Vancouver last Tuesday, 5-4, despite the fact that two of the Canucks' first three shots of the game beat Osgood, who was pulled 7:05 into the game. Two nights later, Edmonton beat Howard on three of its first seven shots.
"I mean, all Ozzie has done in the League is win about 400 games, so I expect him to get into a groove. He has to," Babcock said confidently. "Howard has to settle in and play the game he's capable of playing. As we get better as a team, there will be a lot less pressure on them, which is important as well.
"The bottom line is we got some opportunity at home now and we have to get rolling," he continued. "We have to get feeling good about ourselves. I look today and we're two points out of the playoffs and we got I think games in hand. So, let's get rolling."