DETROIT – The lack of scoring in the first quarter of the regular season has been puzzling for the Red Wings, who continue to struggle offensively.
The Red Wings enter Friday’s home game against the Los Angeles Kings as one of the lowest scoring teams in the league.
Just when it seemed that they had snapped out of their month-long scoring slump with a 4-3 overtime win at Ottawa on Monday, the offense was stymied again, this time in a 2-1 OT loss to Washington on Wednesday. It was the seventh time this month that Detroit’s offense was held to two or fewer goals, however, first-year head coach Jeff Blashill isn’t ready to sound the alarms quite yet.
“The process has been better, we’ve been getting better, we’ve been improving,” he said. “I think we still need more of a killer instinct mentality around the net and a killer instinct mentality to get to the net. Those are two things that we tried to address today in practice, that we still need to do a better job of that.”
For decades, the Red Wings have been consistently among the NHL’s top scoring teams. But so far, they’re averaging a paltry 2.21 goals per game – the franchise’s lowest offensive output through the first 19 games of any single season since 1963-64.
Only Pittsburgh, Carolina, Philadelphia and Anaheim are averaging fewer goals this season.
"We're getting chances, just not putting them in,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “I had a couple breakaways last game and you hope to score on at least one of those. We just as a team got to see more pucks go in. I think we'll relax a little more, obviously we're pressing, trying to score goals, just keep at it, keep at the process and they'll eventually go in for us."
The Wings started the season on a good note, winning three of the first four on 14 goals. But since then, Detroit has averaged 1.87 goals per game in the past 15, while scoring just two or fewer times in 12 of those contests.
“We need to find a way to score for a team where we actually score every period, one goal at least, so the end of the game we at least have three because it’s way too many games without even two goals,” said Tomas Tatar, who is tied for third in team scoring with five goals. “We have to change something up. I’m not sure what it is. I guess coaches are just trying to shack up lines.”
Like Tatar suggests, scoring in each period would be ideal, however, it’s something they’ve done just once this season. That came in a 5-3 win at Ottawa on Oct. 31.
In fairness, the Wings have played the first 19 games of the season somewhat shorthanded. Pavel Datsyuk missed the first 15 games as he recovered from off-season ankle surgery and Brad Richards, who was signed in July to be a second-line center, has been sidelined the past 13 games with a lower-back injury.
Johan Franzen hasn’t played since he began experiencing post-concussion symptoms after the second game of the season, and Darren Helm, who missed training camp and the exhibition season, is still trying to get back up to full speed.
The 35-year-old Richards, who is expected to draw back into the Wings lineup on Friday, believes a little luck can go a long way for his new team.
“You can get on a run either way where it's good or bad and things can kind of mount,” said Richards, who has two assists in six games. “I think right now – and I hate talking about it because I haven't played – I'm not out there battling, but probably just a little greasier, dirtier and not just one goal, but maybe for a week or two. Then those other things start to open up and the prettier plays will open up because you feel better and you see things better, more confidence in the group. … There's a fine line where you can lose some of that effort but just really greasy, greasy as you can be for a while. It might take more than one or two games to break out. You've got to stay with it."
Friday’s game against the Kings will wrap up another of the Wings’ five-game segments, which Blashill likes to use as an evaluating tool. Detroit is 1-2-1 in the current segment.
“We won’t be a playoff team, neither in this segment nor for this season, so that’s not good enough, from our standard,” Blashill said. “What we’ll do is start a new segment (Saturday at St. Louis), but let’s wrap up this segment and let’s get as close to being a playoff team as we can.”
For the Wings to stretch their playoff-appearance streak to 25 straight years, winning at home is imperative. And the way the schedule is set up – more than 60 percent of Detroit’s games in October, November and December are at home – they have to stock compile points now, which makes the Wings’ 4-5-1 home record even more disappointing.
“The 4-5-1 is over, there’s nothing we can do about that,” Blashill said. “We do have is a number of home games here before Christmas so we need to do a better job of winning those home games for sure. We’ve got to do a better job of winning more games.”