DETROIT – Though the Red Wings are among four teams with fewer than five regulation losses, their inability to consistently start games on time is beginning to grind at them.
“Start on time, that’s basically it right there. Done,” said goalie Jimmy Howard, who will get his fifth straight start Tuesday when the Red Wings play at Columbus. “It’s just being ready for the drop of the puck. When we score first we seem to be a pretty good team. When we get behind by a goal or spot the team a couple it just seems to be an uphill climb for us. … So when you start on time things go well for you.”
The numbers certainly bear out for the Wings, who have compiled a 5-1-2 record when they’ve scored first this season. However, when they’ve yielded the first goal in a game – as was the case in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to Montreal – the Wings are a mediocre 3-3-3.
Unlike Friday when the Red Wings played arguably their best game of the young season – a 4-1 win over Chicago – they seemed to go flat against the Canadiens, especially early on when they had no energy.
According to coach Mike Babcock, there was plenty wrong with his team’s performance that needs correcting before the Wings head out this week for road games in Columbus, Winnipeg and Toronto.
Certainly, the lack of energy and effort has been prevalent in recent weeks.
“That’s part of it,” Babcock said. “Shooting the puck is part of it. Faceoff circle is part of it. Taking care of the puck. There’s lots of different things.”
The Wings have been dealing with slow starts ever since their three-game road trip that saw them struggle against the Sabres, Senators and Rangers, and limp home following a 0-1-2 stretch.
Though it’s only November, the upcoming schedule is important if the Wings are to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Detroit begins this week in third place in the Atlantic Division and sixth overall in the conference.
“We just need to get better. We have to get better or we’re losing ground,” Babcock said. “I thought we took a step here today, we’ll try to take a step tomorrow and just kind of keep grinding. That’s what we have to do. I think we need more out of some guys and I’ve challenged them individually and collectively and that’s what we’ll look for.”
The Wings practiced Monday at Joe Louis Arena without Pavel Datsyuk. Babcock said the Wings’ star center is dealing with a sore groin, the same thing that kept him out of the first two games of a four-game home stand which concluded Sunday.
According to Babcock, Datsyuk did accompany the team to Columbus, but his status for Tuesday will likely be a game-day decision.
“He’s getting checked out,” Babcock said. “I don’t know what the word is.”
Despite their slow start this season, the Blue Jackets have played the Wings tight in recent seasons, especially in Ohio’s capital city. Since 2011, the Jackets have a 7-2-1 mark against Detroit at Nationwide Arena.
“We have to be prepared and bring our A game because they always play hard against us,” Wings defenseman Brendan Smith said. “I think they’ve changed the dynamic of their team. A lot of their players do it right, playing both ends of the ice. They muck and grind and make it difficult. I think some of the things we can do better is start on time and use our speed effectively and that’s going to be good for us.”
As for the rest of the three-game trip, forward Justin Abdelkader said, “We have to play a simple game and can’t turn the puck over. You have to get pucks deep, get pucks to the net. Hopefully we can do that and sustain some pressure. Be smart the first 5-10 minutes and limit our turnovers. That’s always a big thing on the road is eliminate turnovers and playing more of a north, south game.”