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Streak is no laughing matter for Wings

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – On the heals of a four-game losing skid, the Red Wings were relaxed – laughing and admiring the Nicklas Lidstrom growth poster that hung in the team’s locker room -- following Thursday morning’s practice at Joe Louis Arena.

The poster is part of a giveaway to the first 5,000 kids 16-years-old and younger at Friday’s home game.

“I think it’s beautiful,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I’m glad the guys are having fun with it.”

However, what's not funny is the current four-game losing streak – the team’s longest in more than 15 months.

Correcting lapses in defensive coverages over the last week -- as was the case in Tuesday's 4-2 loss at Nashville -- was a focus for the Wings during practice Thursday at Joe Louis Arena.
“We haven’t played as well as we would like to lately,” Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg said. “We want to have a good game here Friday and set ourselves up for a good road trip. We’ve made too many mistakes and allowing too many easy goals. We just have to play our game a little bit easier and make the right decisions out there.”

Despite the four losses in a week, the Red Wings haven’t reached the panic mode.

“Adversity can be good or bad,” veteran defenseman Chris Chelios said. “But with the veterans that we have in here, we’re obviously not going to panic. But in the same token, there should be some sense of urgency after four games of losing. Having a Friday night game at home here is a good opportunity for us to get back on the right foot.”

Fridays aren’t necessarily treated like good luck charms for the Wings, but they hope a big Joe Louis Arena will give added incentive against their Central Division rival Columbus. Detroit is 2-0-1 against the Blue Jackets this season with five games between the two clubs remaining. But as is the case with many teams in the league, the Blue Jackets are vying for a playoff spot, which makes them a dangerous foe.

Columbus (26-24-9) is currently ranked No. 10 -- four-points out of the final Western Conference playoff spot that is currently occupied by Colorado (65 points).

“The bottom line is you can’t cruise through this league, and think you’re going to win every night,” Babcock said. “The teams in this league are just too good and they’ve got pride. And we haven’t been as good.”

In the last four games, the Wings haven’t started or finished particularly strong – having been outscored 11-5 in the first and third periods. And in Tuesday’s loss at Nashville, the Predators turned 17 takeaways into a commanding 3-0 early lead that morphed into a 4-2 win.

“Whether it’s at the blue line or in our own zone, there have been too many turnovers,” Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Those are the things that we worked on in practice today. Positioning as well, whether it’s the defensemen or the forwards coming down and helping out. We’ve gotten away from playing a good defensive style that we had been playing early on.”

Still, the Red Wings’ defense has been second to none this season, allowing a league-low 130 goals. But the players know that the current trend needs to be fixed.

“One thing is for sure, we haven’t played well defensively,” Chelios said. “Last game, that first 10 minutes was a pretty good indication of how loose we’ve been playing on our end, so we have to clean things up defensively. We’ve got enough fire-power, we score more goals then any other team in the league, so we have to keep that goals-against down, give our goalie a chance to make some saves, and give ourselves a chance to win some games.”

The Red Wings got more bad news Thursday when Babcock announced that defenseman Brian Rafalski (groin), who hasn’t missed a game since before the NHL lockout, will not be available for Friday’s game.

“Raffi’s not going to play tomorrow,” Babcock said. “We don’t think it’s any big deal, but we have to be cautious, obviously.”

The injury occurred in Nashville on Tuesday, Rafalski said.

“I strained my groin a little bit,” he said. “It’s day-to-day and we’ll see how it goes. Possible. Doubtful. It’s between there. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow. We knew I’d be taking today off, so we’ll see how it is tomorrow. I just wanted to rest and no reason to push it.

Without Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall (clavicle), the defense will be put to the test, especially with three games in four days, beginning Friday.

“We had a few injuries at the beginning of the year and battled through them,” Rafalski said. “Now we have to continue doing it. It’s no excuse, it just gives some guys a chance to play more. The guys stepped up earlier in the year on the forward lines. They did that. Now we’ll have to do it again.”

To fill Rafalski’s void, the team is likely going to recall defenseman Kyle Quincey from Grand Rapids, Babcock said.

After fracturing a bone in his hand during training camp in Traverse City, Quincey has spent the entire season with the Griffins. A former fourth-round pick in 2003, Quincey has played seven games with the Red Wings, including six last season. He also played a significant role in the playoffs last spring after the injury to Mathieu Schneider.

It’s unknown whether the Red Wings will be big players in the upcoming NHL trade deadline. But with the deadline looming, it had Chelios remembering his journey to Hockeytown.

“It was the strangest feeling for me, obviously coming from Chicago,” said Chelios, of the 1999 deal that sent Anders Eriksson to the Blackhawks. “Thank God there were two other guys who were just about as hated as me in Wendel Clark and Ulf Samuelsson. So it made it a little easier to make the transition.”

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