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Goal slump, skid to Isles on Wings' minds

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Tomas Tatar celebrates his first NHL goal, which forced overtime against the New York Islanders on Dec. 31, 2010. He is the last current Wing to score a home goal against the Isles. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – The Red Wings will look to put a stop to two unattractive patterns tonight when they host the New York Islanders at Joe Louis Arena.

First, the Wings, who are winless in their past four games – including three shootout losses – needs to regroup offensively. Detroit has produced just four goals in that stretch.

“We were averaging a lot of goals against, but a lot of goals for too, and I think our defense has been a lot better,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We haven’t allowed that many goals, but I think the offense had suffered a little bit from it. Obviously, we want to score more goals, but at the same time we want to have a good structure and a good defense. We just have to find a good mix of both.”

For coach Mike Babcock, the offense and defense goes hand in hand.

“When you play light in the offensive zone and you don’t shoot the puck, you spend too much time in your own zone,” Babcock said. “When you get out and attack and go after their D and play heavy in the offensive zone, you win pucks and win retrievals and you shoot it, throw it in and jam it at the net, you make it hard.

“The biggest thing for us is we just got to be heavier. For a while there we got our mind set that we were not scoring goals and we were going to throw it in and crash the net and be heavy and then we started scoring goals and thought we were skilled and now we don’t score any more.”

Second, the Wings will look to end a four-game home skid against the Islanders that stretches more than 11 years. The last time the Red Wings claimed a home victory over New York was Nov. 28, 2003, when former forward Steve Thomas scored twice to pace a 6-0 decision.

Since then, the Islanders have outscored the Wings, 11-4, at Joe Louis Arena. Johan Franzen and Tomas Tatar are the only current Wings to register goals in those games.

“I wish I had an answer to that. They’re a good team,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “This year, I think they’re looking better than they have in many, many years. Their leader (John) Tavares, he’s a few years older now. He was always one of the best players in the league. Now it feels like the younger guys behind him are taking another step.”

The lengthy tailspin against the Islanders – postseason qualifiers just once in the past seven seasons – is puzzling.

“I don’t know how it works,” fourth-line winger Joakim Andersson said. “Sometimes you just keep winning in a building and sometimes you just keep losing. Usually you don’t have a good explanation, but there should be some explanation for it.

“They’re a good team, especially this year. They’ve really come along as a group and are playing well. I thought the last couple of years they didn’t take as many points, but I felt they were still a good team.”

Babcock doesn’t live in the past, preferring to focus on tonight’s matchup against the Islanders who are tied with the Wings for third place in the Eastern Conference standings.

“They’re a talented, talented team,” the Wings’ coach said. “They really improved their back end, they’re better in net. They’ve always had good talent up front. (Mikhail) Grabovsky and (Nikolay) Kulemin have given them more depth and the emergence of their kids, their third line in the last game was their best line. They got a good hockey club. It should be lots of fun.”

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