NEW YORK - It's as clear as a cloudless day.
For the Red Wings to turn the tide in their favor, their special teams units must be the impetus for leading the team out of its current doldrums.
In Detroit's 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, the Blueshirts were 2-for-3 on the power play and also scored shorthanded, which proved to be too much for the Red Wings to overcome as they fell for the 11th time in their last 12 games.
Jimmy Howard was the Wings starter in goal. Howard, who grew up in upstate New York as a Rangers fan, entered the game with a career record of 10-3-3 versus New York. His goals-against average of 1.77 and .948 against the Blueshirts are both his best against any NHL opponent.
Yet, in the second period when the Rangers scored both of their power-play goals, Howard was under siege and once again kept the game from getting out of reach.
Howard (2-8-0) stopped 26 of 30 shots he faced for an .867 save percentage.
Valtteri Filppula scored Detroit's lone goal with Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha picking up the assists.
Tony DeAngelo (power play), Chris Krieder, Ryan Strome (power play), Greg McKegg (shorthanded), and Artemi Panarin (empty net) lit the lamp for the Rangers.
In the third period with over five minutes left in the game and the Wings behind 4-1, Detroit pulled Howard to try to generate some offense. The move did result in a goal - unfortunately, it was Panarin's empty-net tally.
Next up for the Red Wings (4-12-1) will be another Original Six encounter as they host the Boston Bruins on Friday evening at Little Caesars Arena.
The Rangers (6-6-1), will next play on Thursday in the second of back-to-back contests when they face the Carolina Hurricanes in Carolina.
1. Dylan Larkin/Justin Abdelkader: As the losses mount, Larkin and Abdelkader are front and center answering all the questions fired their way. Certainly, if you're wearing a letter on your sweater, it comes with the territory, but at times it is a thankless job. After the Rangers game, each player was befuddled as to why a season which began with so much optimism has suddenly derailed so far off course. But they remained steadfast in their belief that the Wings are more than capable of turning this slump around.
Quotable: "Yeah. It's frustrating. Call it what you want, it's frustrating right now. It's tough to try and find an answer when it's night after night. We've tried different things, different lineups, special teams tonight. It seems like it's a different story every night. We can't really seem to generate a full 60 minutes, a complete game. You find the same three themes coming up after nights like these. It's tough. Until we find that balance of playing the right way and (winning the) special teams battle and competing a full 60 minutes, it's not going to come easily." - Larkin
Quotable II: "I thought we did do a lot of good things. When we get in the O-zone, we can be a great team. Specialty teams, I know we've talked about it a lot. We gave up two PK goals and a shorthanded goal. That's three goals right there. We have to continue to bear down. I know we killed that penalty about a minute and 56 and then we let one in late there. We have to continue to bear down. Special teams have been killing us." - Abdelkader
Entering Wednesday's game, the Red Wings ranked last in the NHL in penalty killing with a success rate of 68.6 percent (16 goals allowed in 51 kill opportunities). The Rangers were 2-of-3 on the power play, scoring both power-play goals in the second period to take control of the game, outscoring the Wings, 3-1. Even though the Wings' power play is also struggling, ranking 25th in the league -- 7-of-53 for a success rate of 13.2 percent -- it has been their penalty kill which has extinguished any momentum Detroit has tried to establish during a game.
Quotable: "At the end of the day, we (must) get our specialty teams figured out. I thought our first kill was excellent and they score with five seconds left and then it just crushed us. I thought our last kill was good. We have to find a way to build off the last kill. We did a really good job pressuring, so I thought that was a positive. So we have to find a way to be better than that. Then our power play has to be better. When you look at both of them at the end of the day, that's what's crushed us. You go through all the stats and all that stuff, even strength we've actually been a pretty good hockey team, to be honest with you. I know there's been lots said about us defensively but if you look even strength, I think we're in the top 15 in the league of expected goals-against, that kind of stuff. We're doing a fine job there. Now we lost our way in the second, I thought, and gave up some stupid chances once we got down. I thought we got it back a little bit. That happens. But we have to get our specialty teams figured out." - Wings coach Jeff Blashill
3. Another trade: General manager Steve Yzerman is not standing pat in the midst of the Wings' current struggles. On Oct. 7, he traded forward prospect David Pope to the Vancouver Canucks for veteran defenseman Alex Biega. On Oct. 28, he sent defensive prospect Alec Regula to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for forward Brendan Perlini. Following Wednesday night's game in New York, the team announced that center Jacob de la Rose, who had been a healthy scratch for the Rangers game, was traded to the St. Louis Blues for center Robby Fabbri. Like Perlini, Fabbri was a first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Perlini was selected 12th overall by the Arizona Coyotes while Fabbri was chosen 21st overall by the Blues. Fabbri, 23, has 32 goals and 41 assists in 164 games with St. Louis. He has one goal in nine games this season. Just as Perlini had a previous connection to Dylan Larkin from their Belle Tire bantam team, Fabbri was teammates with one of the Wings, Tyler Bertuzzi, when both played for the Guelph Storm in the 2013-14 season when they won the OHL that year. Givani Smith was traded to the Storm from the Barrie Colts the following season, 2014-15. When the Blues played the Edmonton Oilers Wednesday, Fabbri was a healthy scratch for the eighth straight game. Fabbri has undergone two knee surgeries in his young career, which has set back his development.
Quotable: "Wish him all the best. A great kid, hard-working guy. He fell on some injuries. Wish him all the best. A real good guy." - Blues coach Craig Berube to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch