– Mike Babcock has identified some things he liked in each of the Red Wings’ five losses this month. But don’t misconstrue the coach’s optimism as he’s beyond dissatisfied with the team’s overall performance lately.
Following Thursday’s 3-1 loss at Florida, the Red Wings have lost five of their past seven games and are six points behind Tampa Bay for second place in the Atlantic Division.
“We haven’t been as good,” Babcock said. “We’ve come off it and yet I really thought our game against Pittsburgh was a good bounce-back game. … I’m happier with the tempo of our game last night and the way we skated than we had been playing. So that’s a positive thing but there’s not a lot of feel-good stories in the league except winning. That’s what makes you feel good, so you’ve got to find a way to win games.”
Tonight’s game against the Lightning is huge for the Red Wings, who are trying to hold off Boston and Ottawa for third place in the division.
But their task won’t be easy. Since moving to the Eastern Conference prior to last season, the Wings have a 1-3-3 record against Tampa Bay and have been out-scored 23-12 in that stretch.
“It doesn’t really matter what’s happened before or what’s going to happen in the future,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “It’s (tonight) that counts and we better be ready.”
The Lightning has one of the most explosive offenses in the game. They lead the league in overall goals (230) and goals scored on home ice (119). They’re paced by three of the league’s top 30 scorers in Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov, who have scored a combined 90 goals this season. The entire Buffalo team has scored just 44 more goals than the Lightning's trio.
“They’re right at the top of the division and they’ve got good speed and good tempo to their game,” Babcock said. “I think they’ve added depth on the back end even though they’ve got some injuries. But when you’ve got a good team and good depth, even when you’ve got injuries, it’s opportunity for other people.”
The Wings lost 5-1 to the Lightning in their last visit to Tampa.
“Last time in here I thought we had a good game going and their goalie (Ben Bishop) couldn’t get hit,” Babcock said. “We’ve got to be a little better here tonight. It’s important for us after losing yesterday that we have a good bounce-back game here today.”
The Red Wings are 6-2-1 on the second night of back-to-back games this season.
“They got great depth, great goaltending, some D on the back end that can really move the puck and fly,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “They’re a really good overall team. They play with a lot of pace, a lot of speed and they got a lot of younger guys in particular that are playing well for them. Big challenge for us.
“Anytime you come off back to backs the better start you have the better off you’re going to be in the overall game. Hopefully we can come up with a better start than we did tonight.”
The Wings are very aware that tonight’s game could potentially be a preview of a first-round playoff series with the Lightning.
“Obviously we’re following that standings, it’s very close. At least I do, I think most guys do,” Kronwall said. “It’s just the nature of the game right now. We got to find a way to feel good about ourselves. Regardless of who we play, if we feel good going in (to the playoffs), we feel like we have a pretty good chance.”