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Notes: Red Wings looking for way out of slump

Blashill said the lines will stay together, including Athanasiou-Larkin-Mantha

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

SUNRISE - After winning four of their first five games, the Red Wings are now mired in a six-game losing streak and looking to snap out of it.

After Thursday night's 3-2 loss in Tampa to a hot Lightning team, captain Henrik Zetterberg was blunt.

"We are where we are," Zetterberg said. "You can't say anything else. We aren't good enough to win games and that's why we've lost six in a row."

Zetterberg is not the only one who is exasperated with the losing, which brings up bad memories of last season.

"It feels worse," Larkin said. "It's early, the ups and downs, coming on four wins and then now six in a row. No one's happy. Almost a rock bottom feeling. I haven't felt like this in my career. It's looking in the mirror, it's getting to work and bringing what got you here to the table."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill said he understands where Zetterberg is coming from.

"I'm assuming what he's saying, in knowing and talking lots with Henrik, is playing like that we're not good enough to win," Blashill said. "The team in there is good enough to win, without question. We've proven that against good teams. But the difference between winning and losing is minuscule and you got to change those things. We self-inflicted (Thursday) night on six penalties that were 100 percent not needed. We've killed off the most penalties in the league.

"I talked last night that frustration is a waste of time. You got to find solutions. There's a solution starting us right in the face. Be way more disciplined. Get back to where we were more towards last year when we were in the bottom tier of the league in having to kill penalties. I think our penalty kill has been elite but when you have to kill that many penalties you're just asking for trouble."

The Wings are currently 12th in the league in penalty killing at 83 percent.

NO MORE LINE BLENDER: In Friday's practice at BB&T Center, the Wings had the following lines:

Tomas Tatar-Zetterberg-Gustav Nyquist

Andreas Athanasiou-Larkin-Anthony Mantha

Darren Helm-Frans Nielsen-Justin Abdelkader

Martin Frk-Luke Glendening-Scott Wilson

Blashill met with the team before practice and told them the same thing he told reporters afterward.

"I've played with the lines a lot, I'm done playing with lines," Blashill said. "The lines are the lines, the guys on those lines got to step up and make plays. We've got guys that have been elite in this league, step up and be elite. Lots of times in these games it comes down to a player making a play. Their couple players made plays last night, (Nikita) Kucherov made lots of plays. We need guys - we have them - we need to step up and make plays."

The Tatar-Zetterberg-Nyquist line is one that started the season and one that had some early success.

"Like coach said, we tried to do the change there in the game and it didn't really work out," Tatar said. "Now we are trying to maybe stabilize it more. We'll see. We have to turn it around and start doing good things, play right and hopefully we will start winning some games. He chose the lines to be this. We have to respect it and find a way to get the chemistry going."

The second line of Athanasiou-Larkin-Mantha could be an exciting one with the speed of Athanasiou and Larkin and the physical presence and scoring touch of Mantha.

"I'm pretty excited," Mantha said. "You can't ask for two faster guys in this league. We need to use that. That's gonna get me going for sure. I'll have to skate to keep up with those guys. We'll just have to be in close support and create plays."

Athanasiou and Mantha have played together quite a bit, dating back to their time in Grand Rapids with the AHL's Griffins.

"It's huge," Larkin said. "Even just practice today, they're talking, they know each other and I know them so I think we all know each other. Ton of speed and we should be able to back check as hard as we're going to skate up the ice. It's going to be fun to play with these guys."

Larkin and Mantha started the year together playing with Frk so they are familiar with each other as well.

"We didn't have them together lots last year but I think they can be a good line and if they're really going they'll play lots," Blashill said. "If they're not really going, they won't play lots. So it'll be up to them, same with the other lines. I also think with Nielsen, Helm and Abdelkader you can match that line against other team's best players and free up the other groups to play at times and be able to create offense as well."

Although he has shifted to the fourth line, Frk will also remain on the power play.

"It's not a natural fit but I guess my question is Mitch Marner a natural fit on Toronto but when he goes out there boy, he's dangerous, so as a player you got to make yourself dangerous when you're out there," Blashill said. "That's what I found when we played against them. It didn't feel like a fourth line, it felt better than that. Frky's got to do the same thing, he can make that line dangerous, he's got to play at a high level."

The advantage to keeping the lines the same is they don't have to try to figure out what the line can do as a unit during the game.

"You build and build and build each game, each period, each shift you come back to the bench you're talking about what you need to improve on and where the guys are going to go," Larkin said. "You just keeping picking that up for the next game, whereas if you're switching all the time, you start from zero sometimes it works right away, sometimes you have that where it doesn't work at all or it takes four or five shifts and four or five shifts in this league, it can be a while."

POWER PLAY COULD IMPROVE: The Wings scored a late power-play goal with the goaltender pulled Thursday against the Lightning but they are currently 23rd in the league at 15 percent.

The Colorado Avalanche are also at 15 percent.

The Lightning are first at 31.1 percent while the New York Islanders are last at 6.1 percent.

"It's got to be better," Blashill said. "Totally self-inflicted, giveaways, what so they call those, unforced errors in tennis, that's what they felt like last night. We won a face-off, we don't go D to D, we won a face-off, it goes out of the zone, we get a puck we turn it over. So we got to be more, I guess urgent is the right word."

Tatar said scoring that late power-play goal did provide some clue as to what they need to do more of with the man-advantage.

"We got some ideas by the end of the game how we could play," Tatar said. "Obviously we weren't good enough. We didn't break the puck into the zone. We just have to shoot it. We have to (simplify) it more. Just to get on the flanks or shots from the point, then later it's going to open other places and seams."

Larkin said much the same about his power-play unit with Athanasiou, Mantha, Frk and Mike Green.

"I think we got to get back to getting simple," Larkin said. "Obviously with Frky, he's got a great shot, we got to get back to where we're starting out and we're shooting the puck to create chaos and then we make our plays at get it to him and let him bomb it and keep bombing it until the defenseman doesn't want to come block it anymore. It's on the other guys, when he shoots it, we got to get it back and it really comes down to working hard to keep those second and third opportunities alive."

DEKEYSER UNLIKELY: It appears that defenseman Danny DeKeyser will miss his ninth straight game with a lower-body injury when the Wings play the Florida Panthers Saturday night.

"I don't know if it was a setback or a stall," Blashill said. "I thought he was progressing, I really thought he was going to play (Thursday) night. Wednesday after practice I was told it didn't feel good, so he didn't play."

DeKeyser skated with Luke Witkowski in practice and said afterward that he probably would not be able to go against the Panthers.

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