DETROIT – Getting back up to speed following a long road trip can be a grind for any hockey club.
Wednesday the Red Wings were still feeling the jet lag associated with their recently concluded six-game trip as they returned home to host the New York Rangers.
Though the Wings salvaged a 2-1 overtime victory, their skating wasn’t up to par, which they must remedy before the Calgary Flames come calling Friday night.
“We better be a lot better than we were,” coach Mike Babcock said following the team’s practice Thursday afternoon. “We weren’t real crisp today. We had a late game last night. I don’t think we had a ton of energy here today but I expect our energy to be back and us to have no reason to play a lot better than we did. We got to tighten up our game again and get back to the level we need to be at.”
Following Wednesday’s win, Babcock equated the Wings’ skating to that of walking in snowshoes. The Rangers out-skated Detroit, especially in the second period when they could have taken control of the game if not for the outstanding play of goalie Jimmy Howard, who made 39 saves – one shy of his season high set on Dec. 29 at Boston.
“Over a course of a year you’re going to play some really good games where you’re going to lose anyway, where you play a hot goalie,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “You’re going to play some games where you don’t play very well and your own goalie comes up big and that’s been the case a few times this year where our goalies have really basically stolen the game for us.”
The Red Wings have allowed 40 shots in each of the last two games, including Saturday’s 4-3 win at Nashville. It was just the third time in the past 12 seasons that Detroit has surrendered 40 or more shots in back-to-back games.
“The biggest thing is if we skate – and when we skate – that’s when we play our best,” Kronwall said. “When we skate we execute a lot better and we have the puck a lot more, and that way we automatically play a lot more in their zone than the other way around. I think that will be the biggest key tomorrow. If we can get our legs going we could, hopefully, prevent them from taking 40 shots.”
The Flames are among the bottom three teams in the league in shots on goal, averaging 27.1 per game. Only New Jersey (24.2) and Buffalo (23) have produced fewer shots.
Now it’s up to the Wings, who are 5-1-1 in their last seven games, to get back to the basics of skating hard and out-working the opposition. Both have been hallmarks to their season to this point.
“We’ve been pretty resilient that way and we understand when we don’t compete hard enough and don’t play well enough,” Babcock said. “It’s not too hard to look at last night’s game and look at all the turnovers and all the offense we created for them. Those are just things you’re doing to yourself. We understand that. It’s good for Howie to win a game like that because lots of nights we don’t have to count on him as much. But last night we did and the rest of us found a way to get it done but we have to play a lot better.”
Defense - DET
Goals: 3 | Assists: 11 | Pts: 14
Shots: 71 | +/-: 1
Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson
did not skate in Thursday’s practice. Jakub Kindl
took his place on the Wings’ top defensive pairing alongside Kronwall.
Ericsson suffered an undisclosed injury during Wednesday’s game and his status for the game against the Flames will be decided following Friday’s morning skate.
“We’ll have to ask Babs that later on,” Kronwall said. “I don’t know what their thought process is, but hopefully E’s not too bad and he’ll be able to go tomorrow.”
Ericsson is one of eight Wings who have played in all 62 games this season.
COLLISION COURSE: The Wings (36-15-11, 83 points) trail Tampa Bay by one point for second place in the Atlantic Division standings. Detroit holds three games in hand, but Tampa Bay owns the ROW tiebreaker (TBL: 37, DET: 33).
The two clubs will face off two more times this season – March 20 at Amalie Arena and eight days later, March 28, at Joe Louis Arena.
NINE IS FINE: With his thrilling overtime goal Wednesday, Marek Zidlicky became the ninth different defensemen to register a goal for the Red Wings this season. It’s the first time that more than eight Detroit blue liners have scored in a single season since 2005-06.
The other current D-men to score are Kronwall (7), Kindl (4), Brendan Smith (4), Ericsson (3), Kyle Quincey (3), Danny DeKeyser (2), Xavier Ouellet (2) and Alexey Marchenko (1).
Wednesday’s goal snapped a 31-game goal scoring drought for the 38-year-old veteran, whose last goal with New Jersey came Dec. 15 at the New York Islanders.
|Wearing a new suit vest, coach Mike Babcock spoke to the local media following the Red Wings' 2-1 overtime win over the Rangers on Wednesday. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings) |
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Zidlicky is the first player in franchise history to record an overtime goal in his team debut. He also became the fifth player in Red Wings history to score his first goal with the team in overtime – though no one else has done so in his first game with the club – joining Duke Keats (1927), Mud Bruneteau (1935), Marian Hossa (2008) and Stephen Weiss (2013).
SHARP-DRESSED MAN: In his 10 seasons as the Red Wings’ head coach, Babcock may not have looked more dapper behind the bench Wednesday night.
Normally a jacket and tie kind of guy, Babcock sported a new custom-made three-piece suit during the last game. The Wings’ coach said it was out of respect to the gentleman who makes his suits.
“It’s amazing that the same guy who has been making my clothes forever and has got a vest with all my suits, I never, ever wear it,” Babcock said. “I went to the place the other day and he was all over me about how come I never wear the vest. So I said, ‘OK, I’ll wear the vest. So there you go.
“Maybe we’ll call it an Original Six vest.”