BURNABY, B.C. — The NHL standings don’t tell the whole story when it comes to the Detroit Red Wings, says coach Jeff Blashill.
“I think we’re a good team. I think we’re a better team than our record has indicated, but that’s my opinion,” he said Saturday in Burnaby, B.C., where his squad was preparing to battle the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.
It’s an opinion that star centre Dylan Larkin agrees with.
“But we need to come out here and prove it, and prove it for a long time, long stretches throughout the season,” said Larkin, who leads the team in scoring with 47 points.
It’s been a tough year for the Wings, who started with a seven-game losing skid in October and have since limped to a 18-27-4 record, good for second-last place in the Eastern Conference.
Detroit has 11 Stanley Cups and famously made post-season runs for 25 years in a row before missing out both in 2017 and 2018.
Rebuild Dependent on Red Wings’ Youth
Now the Wings are in rebuild mode, but how long the process will take remains unknown, Blashill said.
The future will depend on the development of young players such as Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou, he said.
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“I think the biggest thing is to be a team that’s in the playoffs, you’ve got to have three elite players and can some of our young guys become elite? The quicker they become elite, the quicker we’re back in that mix.”
Niklas Kronwall believes the organization has what it takes to climb back to the top.
“I think we’ve got a lot of good pieces, we’re going in the right direction. I think the development of our young guys has been exceptional this year,” he said, adding that he believes Larkin is one of the best players in the league.
“The way he shows up every day and competes, the way he drives the bus, so to speak, for us every night is extremely pleasing.”
The 38-year-old defenceman knows what success looks like for the Red Wings.
Drafted 29th overall by Detroit in 2000, Kronwall has spent his entire 15-season career with the club and won a Stanley Cup in 2008.
He said being part of the team’s growth is special and despite trade rumours, he wants to stick around.
“It’s exciting to see the excitement (the young players) come in with every day,” Kronwall said. “And I think for myself, I probably enjoy it more on a day-to-day basis than I ever have. It’s very exciting and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Red Wings Getting Close Against Good Teams
Still, he knows the team needs to find ways to limit mistakes and hang on for wins in tight games.
On Friday, the Wings dropped a 6-4 decision in Calgary despite being up a goal midway through the third period.
“In the end, we lost because we shot ourselves in the foot for no reason,” Blashill said. “We did an excellent job on the penalty kill and then they scored three power-play goals late on plays that shouldn’t happen. So we’ve got to find ways of not shooting ourselves in the foot and keep playing real good hockey.”
The fact that the Red Wings are keeping pace with some of the best teams in the league is great, Larkin said, but they need to find ways to finish.
“It’s not lack of effort or lack of skill and determination. It’s mistakes that we need to clean up and we’ll be winning games here,” he said.
The key to success in a season full of ups and downs is staying focused on the task at hand, Blashill said.
Instead of looking back at what happened a week or a month ago, the Wings are always working towards the next game.
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“None of that stuff matters. What matters is the task we have ahead of us. We’ve got a narrow focus and I think our guys have done a pretty good job of it,” the coach said. I think our guys are real hungry, I think our guys — for the most part — have played real hard.”
The young men who will shape the franchise’s future aren’t thinking much about what the team will look like next season or the one after that, Larkin said.
“I don’t think we’re 23 guys in the locker room thinking about a rebuild,” he said. “We’re thinking about day-by-day and we’re thinking about winning games.”
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press