COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Wings have actually gotten used to this, the late push in the season to make the playoffs in the salary-cap era.
Monday night the Philadelphia Flyers snapped the Tampa Bay Lightning's nine-game winning streak to pull within two points of the Red Wings, who are eighth in the Eastern Conference with 75 points.
The Flyers have gone 7-2-1 in their last 10.
The Wings have dropped their last two games to the Western Conference -leading Chicago Blackhawks.
"You don’t want to put together a stretch of too many games where you’re not getting points because it’s gonna set you back," Justin Abdelkader said. "Philly is playing really good and I think they beat a really good Tampa Bay team last night, so we’ve just got to be prepared, obviously, to worry about ourselves and worry about our game. But it’s gonna be tight the rest of the way here."
Wings coach Jeff Blashill wants the team to keep the focus on itself.
Blashill has approached the entire season in five-game segments.
"We start a new segment, these five games starting tonight," Blashill said. "We want to be a playoff team this segment we got to earn a couple points back. We’re three behind this season, in our estimation, of what it takes to be a playoff team. We need points, we need to go out tonight and play great hockey and find a way to get points."
The Wings all say they are paying attention to the scoreboard and the standings at this time of year.
"I keep track for sure," Danny DeKeyser said. "The last 15 games are always usually pretty tight. It's really close like it is every year. We'd like to separate ourselves a little bit so it would be nice to start with a win tonight."
Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella would rather be in the Wings' shoes, with a chance to make the playoffs, but he said it's always telling to see what happens at this time of year.
"It's the pressure of having to do it. They're in a dogfight," Tortorella said. "They're going to find out about their people. I hope they don't make any ground tonight. It's fun for me to watch because you find about about athletes, how they handle those type of situations."
The Wings have several young players like rookies Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou getting their first taste of this kind of stress, plus many veterans who know what it takes.
It can also help that the Wings have two games left against the Flyers, next Tuesday in Philadelphia and the last home game of the season April 6.
"Listen, it's all in your own hands," Niklas Kronwall said. "We dictate where we go from here. It's just about finding a way to win and get points every night. That's really what it comes down to."
DATSYUK EXPECTED TO PLAY: Pavel Datsyuk, who missed Sunday's game in Chicago because of illness, practiced Monday and took part in Tuesday morning's optional skate.
Blashill said they anticipated that Datsyuk would play.
As for other lineup decisions like whether Alexey Marchenko would play in place of Brendan Smith, Blashill said those would be finalized by game-time.
D PAIRINGS: DeKeyser practiced Monday with Marchenko as his partner and Kyle Quincey was with Mike Green.
"I don’t think our D has been as good lately as they were at different points of the year," Blashill said. "Sometimes that’s guys not quite playing up to their potential, sometimes that’s the pairings themselves. As a coach your job is to try to help them as much as you can and sometimes that means making some changes and see if the changes help, so we’ll see tonight if that’s indeed what we do."
DeKeyser said he played a few games with Marchenko earlier in the season when Quincey was recovering from ankle surgery.
"I think on the back end we've got guys who can play pretty much with anybody, it doesn't matter who you put them out there with, they should be able to play just fine," DeKeyser said.
Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson were the other pair and those two have played together quite a bit over the years.
"Of course it helps," Kronwall said. "I think there's no question about that. But at the same time we've played enough with each other that we should have chemistry with everybody. So regardless of who you're out there with you should feel pretty comfortable."
ON JAGR: On Monday night, Jaromir Jagr had one assist, passing Red Wings legend Gordie Howe for third on the all-time points list.
Jagr has 1,851 points -- 743 goals and 1,108 assists.
At 44, Jagr is older than Blashill.
"It's amazing," Blashill said. "He's an impact player still today and really I think an amazing thing. I've talked about this lots, those guys aren't great by happenstance, they're great because of how hard they work and the choices they make every day. I've heard his choices on an everyday basis are amazing and that's why he's in the position he's in."
|Several Michigan-born Red Wings were big fans of the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson, who announced on Tuesday his retirement from the NFL after a nine-year career. (Photo by Gavin Smith/Detroit Lions) |
THANKS, CJ: Blashill and several of his players are Michigan guys so they took particular interest in the news that Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson announced his retirement.
"I don't follow other sports as close as I'd like to just because of our job but I've been a Lions fan my whole life and certainly Calvin's one of the greats and was a pleasure to watch for sure," Blashill said. "Everybody knows their own timeline and when their time is done and he's certainly doing it on his own timeline, but what a great sports figure in the city of Detroit and will be remembered for a long time."
DeKeyser said he has been to a few games and seen Johnson play in person.
"He was always one of the best players on the field and always fun to watch," DeKeyser said. "He was always getting double-teamed in the end zone and guys just couldn't stop him. He was a beast."
Abdelkader said it was hard to pick out just one or two spectacular Johnson catches.
"He’s made a couple of them where he’s made kind of in between three guys, jumping over them," Abdelkader said. "It’s obviously disappointing to see him retire because he was so fun to watch."
Yet considering the danger of playing football, Abdelkader understands why Johnson would retire at the age of 30.
"There’s a lot of wear and tear on your body not only at the pro level, but obviously for him in high school and college levels there’s injuries that probably happen there too, so it’s a lot of wear and tear," Abdelkader said. "He’s had a great career and happy he can walk away somewhat healthy."
RESPECT FOR WINGS: Tortorella was asked about the Red Wings and the fact that they have made the playoffs 24 straight seasons.
"They do it the right way," Tortorella said. "They develop people, they've drafted well. They are very patient and allow players to develop the right way. Great management, great coaching, great drafting. It's a culture. I was talking to Blash earlier this season. When you have players like Zetterberg and Datsyuk, they take over the room, there are not always coaches in there. We're trying to develop our room. I'm in there too much. Blash said, 'I have such a great advantage because our room's straightened up.' We're trying to develop that."