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Notes: Red Wings taking precautions to thwart the coronavirus

Bernier's solid year a little bittersweet

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- Very few people come in more contract with the public than a professional athlete.

They play in gigantic, multipurpose arenas in front of tens of thousands of fans, make countless public appearances, have a continuous travel schedule and are approached by their adoring public when they're on the street.

So, with the world on high alert due to the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Red Wings and the NHL are taking measured precautions, without a sense of panic.

"The NHLPA sent a memo out to the guys just informing us that the league is taking precautions. It's going to be one of those things that we take day by day and see how it spreads and where it goes," Red Wings alternate captain Justin Abdelkader said after Wednesday's practice at the BELFOR Training Center inside Little Caesars Arena. "It seems like it's only a matter of time before quite a number of people start getting it. I think in the U.S., we're doing a good job of taking the precautions. It's not just our sport but in all sports.

"I even heard something about the NCAA not allowing fans to come to the games. Those are big decisions to make but obviously we're trying to keep as many people safe as possible."

Dylan Larkin is aware how easily germs can be transmitted between people and has experienced it with the Red Wings.

"One of the times we had our season ticket holder autograph signing and a couple days later, I got the flu. Then it went through the whole team. I think I was one of the first," Larkin said. "You just have to be careful, you have to be cautious. I know people enjoy a handshake and a photo but maybe if it's a fist bump, hopefully they'll understand with everything, the seriousness and the scare out there. You do have to be cautious whenever you're out in public, everyone, I guess now."

While there is concern among the Wings, they're keeping a level head.

"I feel like every couple of years, there's something new coming out. Obviously everyone's got to be careful," Jonathan Bernier said. "Wash your hands and things like that. It is what it is for everyone in the world. We haven't changed anything in the locker room."

Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill was asked if he, personally, and the Wings organization have taken any extra precautions to combat COVID-19, and he revealed due to the nature of life in the NHL, being cautious has always been part of the curriculum because of the flu.

"It's kind of the normal, universal precautions you go through at this time of year with the flu and those types of things," Blashill said. "You always try to be real smart about that. Washing your hands all the time. Making sure you're covering your mouth when you're coughing. If someone's sick, we've tried to have them stay at home. That hasn't happened yet, but we've done that with the flu. It's real similar so far as to what would be expected at this time of year. I have young kids, so we try to do that all the time anyways.

"Our medical staff has been in contact with the league, they've been in contact with every medical staff. (NHL Commissioner) Gary Bettman said yesterday it's business as usual with the idea it's those universal precautions I talked about. Our locker room gets cleaned every day and then taking it day by day.

"Right now, there's no travel restrictions in the U.S. We'll just take it day by day and make sure we stay on top of it, both as an organization, as a hockey team and as a league. The league is certainly doing that as well and we'll see what tomorrow brings."

Since the Red Wings are in tip-top shape, they expressed worry over individuals who may not have the same amenities provided to a professional sports team.

"We're fortunate that us as a group, a lot of the guys are healthy and take care of themselves. You just worry about the elderly and your parents," Abdelkader said. "Those sorts of people, whether they have some kind of lung disease, or are trying to fight something off and have a weakened immune system, those are the ones that are really in danger and that's why we're just trying to keep it contained as much as possible."

The Red Wings have a hectic March schedule with several road trips taking them cross-country and into Canada. So while they'll keep tabs on COVID-19, they realize there is only so much they can control.

"You're trying to be aware;" Abdelkader said. "Wash your hands a little more frequently. But at the same time, you're out in the public, once we're on the road, we'll be in hotels. There's things we can't control that way. We just try to keep ourselves as healthy as possible.

"People that are healthy for the most part are getting through it. Still, A, you don't want to get it but B, you don't want to spread it to family members or others really. I think we're just at a point as a country where we're trying to learn as much information as we can and take measures as we find out how bad it starts spreading."

Blashill's approach toward COVID-19 is thoughtful without creating undue anxiety.

"You certainly pay attention to it and see where it goes from here. It hasn't had an immediate impact on my life yet. I don't think it's had an immediate impact on any of our lives yet," Blashill said. "Let's see. Certainly want to make sure we're being as good as we can about those simple but effective methods to try to stem the spread of any kind of illness."

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BERNIER KEEPS ROLLING ALONG: Since mid-December, Bernier has been exceptional between the pipes for the Red Wings.

He's 13-21-3 with a 2.92 goals-against average, a .907 save percentage, one shutout and he's also chipped in three assists.

But with the Wings experiencing a down year, the 31-year-old netminder isn't getting caught up in his solid season.

"At the end of the day, you want to win every game and obviously we're not this year and you want to be making a difference," Bernier said. "So every game that you don't win, you look at it and you try to get better and you try to change things to be on the winning side.

"There's days obviously it's not easy but I think my mentality's just been you come to work and try to have fun, too. It's a tough environment right now by not winning and not accomplishing what we want as a team but we still have to have fun. I feel if you do that, then you're excited to come to work, you're going to work harder and it's easier to stay focused."

Bernier attributes confidence as one of the key factors in getting his game on track in December.

"Probably rhythm and confidence," Bernier said. "I've been playing more since (mid-December) and I think that probably has a big effect on my game."

He also admitted being the Wings starter has calmed him down and allowed him to concentrate on stopping pucks.

"Knowing that you're playing and sometimes, we're human, and sometimes when you don't play a lot, sometimes you're putting a little bit more pressure on yourself to win and show that you can be the guy," Bernier said. "It's definitely not maybe the right way to approach it, but I think once you know it's your net, I just find like, for me, it's easier to go out there and just do my job."

Blashill has been impressed with Bernier's overall play, especially when the Red Wings were having difficulty finding their defensive game.

"From December on, he's done a really good job, you don't have an opportunity to win in this league if you don't get that type of goaltending." Blashill said. "If you look around the league, the teams that do well get that type of goaltending.

"In the early part of the season, we were playing pretty good team defense, I thought we were terrible from Thanksgiving through the All-Star break and that's a stretch where he was really good and I think we've been better here as of late, most of the chances, even the chances inside the home plate area, have been the type from the perimeter in what I would call saveable chances.

"So, what's impressive about his run is the beginning part when we weren't good enough defensively he was playing really, really good hockey. As of the late, the marriage between being good defensively and good goaltending (comes) together and I think that's been the case lately."

As much as Bernier enjoys being the Wings top netminder, he does have empathy for struggling partner Jimmy Howard. They may be in competition, but Howard and Bernier are friends and have enormous respect for each other.

"Everyone feels for the situation he's in. To be honest, I can relate to that," Bernier said. "When I was in Toronto, my third year was kind of the same year. They sent me down for conditioning, couldn't win. It was just one of those where losses just pile up and the pressure keeps piling as well.

"It's just unfortunate that he doesn't get the bounces. Sometimes you just need a break and get one win to get on a roll after."

With a daunting schedule facing the Wings in March, Bernier is looking forward to the challenge of facing pretty much playoff teams each and every game.

"I feel good, to be honest, I've been waiting for this opportunity for a long time," Bernier said. "All the effort I put in in the summer, it pays off in the season. I feel like they've done a good job managing me for practice and making sure I'm ready for games."

Unlike popular belief, there wasn't one moment when Bernier knew his game was rounding into form, it was more about consistency.

"The big saves, they come and go. You want to have big saves every game but I think the one thing I focus on and I'm sure most goalies, just to be solid every night," Bernier said. "To not give up bad goals and just to be … for me, it's like being 100 percent save percentage from the outside, that's what I strive for and then the rest, if you make a big save, then obviously it can change the game.

"That's what you're hoping for but you can't really go in there every night and say I'm going to make a big backdoor save on a 2-on-1 and things like that. So I think you just want to be consistent and stop what you should stop."

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