NEW YORK — Dylan Larkin stood before the scrum in front of him at a loss for words, trying to reflect on the Detroit Red Wings’ 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday night that marked their fourth-straight loss.
“I don’t know,” he finally says when asked what makes this stretch harder than ones in the past. “That’s a tough question. It really is.”
Going 4-12-1 through their first 17 games of the season, Detroit currently sits last in the league at nine points, tied with the Ottawa Senators.
As Larkin put it, the team’s woes manifest into “a different story every night,” and on this night, the dagger was special teams.
The Red Wings gave up two goals on the penalty kill and then, down 3-1 with a third-period power-play opportunity, surrendered a shorthanded goal to Greg McKegg, which put one of the final nails in the coffin.
Overall, Detroit’s penalty kill percentage (66.7) is the worst in the league and their power play (12.7) falls among the bottom-6.
“Our special teams have been killing us,” Justin Abdelkader said, adding, “We continue to lose, especially [the special teams] battle, you’re not going to win a lot of games when you’re minus-3 in the special teams department it’ll be tough to win any games.”
Beyond that, there’s quite a bit contributing to Detroit’s rough start to the season, and in turn, a lot that needs to be cleaned up. The Red Wings surrender the most goals on average per game (4.00) league-wide (tied with Los Angeles), and their 2.06 goals per game ranks dead-last.
“Call it what you want, it’s frustrating right now,” Larkin said. “It’s tough to try and find an answer when it’s night after night when you try different things, try different lineups. . . . We can’t really seem to generate a full 60 minutes, a full complete game. You find the same three themes coming up after nights like these and it’s tough.”
However, looking at their play, the effort is there; Detroit is confident in their ability to stick together. The Wings average just over 30 shots on net per game and move the puck well but during certain stretches, the team will take a step back and fall behind.
“I don’t believe in flukes,” head coach Jeff Blashill said. “We got to step up and we just got to be better. . . we got to dig in.”
In the dressing room, every player said that improvement is a necessity at this point and it falls on everyone’s shoulders, from the forward lines to the d-corps to the goaltending.
Jimmy Howard, who’s off to one of the worst starts of his career with a 2-8-0 record, 3.99 goals-against-average and .887 save percentage, mentioned that the Wings’ turnaround will come when they stop falling prey to their old habits.
“Just got to break out of it,” he said prior to the game. “It seems like we play a couple [games] really well then go right back to our old habits. It’s just about going out there and taking care of the details of the game and you know we’re one of those teams that has to outwork everyone.
“Today’s a new day. You have a chance to go out there and prove yourself once again. We have to go out there and start proving on a consistent basis that we’re a good hockey team.”
When asked about his mindset — given that he’s off to one of the worst starts of his career with a 2-8-0 record, 3.99 goals-against-average and .877 save percentage — staying optimistic isn’t easy, but it’s imperative, especially as a goalie.
“Just keep moving forward. This game can be cruel at times and chew you up and spit you out, and you just got to keep chugging along,” Howard said.
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Looking ahead, Detroit’s schedule doesn’t get easier. They face the Boston Bruins at 7 p.m. ET on Friday, then play the Vegas Golden Knights and Anaheim Ducks.
Even with more challenges ahead, it’s still early for the Red Wings and Blashill said it’s not time — nor is it ever time — to give up.
“We have a choice. We can feel sorry for ourselves, we can mope, we can be frustrated, we can do all those things and it’ll just keep up, or we can decide we’re going to go against Boston and play a good game,” Blashill said. “You hope you get a result, then eventually you’re going to get results. I know it’s hard, it is hard, it’s not supposed to be easy.”
While the 2019-20 campaign is still in its infancy, Detroit is ready to play with urgency to snap out of its skid and return to form — especially, if they want to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
“It’s going [the wrong way] right now,” added Larkin. “We got to find a way to stop it, and we got to find a way to stop it now. We need to find an answer, and we need to find it quick.”
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