Dylan Larkin and Jeff Blashill talk after the Detroit Red Wings lose, 2-0, to the Buffalo Sabres on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, at Little Caesars Arena. Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press
Jeff Blashill pushed back against the Detroit Red Wings needing to show desperation because he doesn’t like what the word infers.
“When you’re desperate in life,” he said, “you do stupid things. When you have no money, you go rob a bank because you’re desperate. I always try to be real careful with that.”
Blashill prefers the word urgency. Whatever verbiage is applied, the Wings want to redefine their season, want to prove they are better than the team that heads into Sunday’s contest at Little Caesars Arena against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on a seven-game losing skid.
“We need to get our confidence back as a team,” Dylan Larkin said after Friday’s 2-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. “We’ve played good. We haven’t played good consistently. We just need to get two points and grind out a win and pick up from there. We need it in the worst way. Luckily in November there is a game every other day, so we are going to have chances. We are going to have to figure this out pretty quick or else it’s going to get ugly.”
One might argue the 29-9 goal differential during the losing streak already is ugly. The Wings played well against the Sabres, created chances start to finish. Same result, though, as their poor outing at Ottawa on Wednesday: another loss.
The Wings are 3-8, their 3-1 start fading into memory. Larkin, who sounds like a captain every time he speaks, isn’t happy to be at two goals and seven points.
“I haven’t been good enough offensively or defensively,” he said. “You want to point fingers, point them right at me. I have to be way better for this team and carry the load up front and put the puck in the net.”
Larkin admitted that “you start thinking about it, you take it home with you.” He sounded very much like former teammate Thomas Vanek, who, when he wasn’t scoring last year, said he was losing sleep over it. Larkin wants to lead by example, wants to be a scorer. He knows there’s attention on himself and Andreas Athanasiou because they’re coming off 30-goal seasons.
“We need to score big goals for our club and we need to find a way to contribute more offensively and be a better impact for our team,” Larkin said.
Larkin directed eight shots on net Friday and went 19-for-24 on faceoffs. He has, as he was last year, been one of the team’s best players most games, if not the best. That’s his inner drive coming through.
“He has to do it at 23 years old as the perceived guy who is kind of leading the franchise and he has to stand in front of everybody every night and that’s a hard thing,” Blashill said. “But I think he is growing. What makes Dylan special is he has great self-recognition.”
Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi had a fabulous opening weekend, combining for 16 points. But there aren’t enough other forwards contributing — Athanasiou has two assists and is a team-worst minus-11 in nine games; Valtteri Filppula has two points in 11 games, and Frans Nielsen, no points in eight games.
Blashill has tried various combinations in hopes of finding at least two lines that can score. Against the Sabres, he moved Mantha to play with Athanasiou and FIlppula.
“Mantha is one guy whose production hasn’t dropped off when he hasn’t played with Larkin,” Blashill said. “Everybody else’s production drops off when they don’t play with Larkin. Mantha and AA had some good history together in the AHL — let’s see if we can get another line going. The one thing we have to look at with that Filppula, Athanasiou, Mantha line — they have to skate for themselves and go get the puck. If they want to be a line together, someone has to forecheck. They have to forecheck harder.”
Athanasiou has the skill set to be a game changer because of his explosive speed and ability to finish around the net. Blashill described him as “kind of a home-run hitter — he gets big chances. He doesn’t necessarily produce tons of those dirty-type chances. He looks for those big chances because of his speed.
“Last year, a lot of the home runs went out of the ball part. Right now they are staying in the ball park. He has to find a way to start finishing on the chances he has and he has to find a way bring that second element to your game, which is scoring dirty when you’re not scoring pretty.”
The Wings don’t need to rob a bank, but as this losing streak has ballooned, there’s a growing urgency to bank points to restore their confidence.