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Detroit Red Wings players defend Jeff Blashill's job after latest ugly loss

Detroit Free Press logo Detroit Free Press 11/6/2019 Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press
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Dylan Larkin didn’t want to hear it. Justin Abdelkader pushed back, too. 

When a losing streak grows as ugly as the Detroit Red Wings’ has — and they head into Madison Square Garden on Wednesday after three straight blowouts — the spotlight on the coach intensifies.

After opening the season 3-1, the Wings have gone 1-10-1. They’ve been outscored the past three games, 17-4, inflating their goals-differential to minus-29, the worst in the NHL.

Will Jeff Blashill survive behind the bench if this trend continues against the New York Rangers or beyond? General manager Steve Yzerman is not the type to make a move just for the sake of doing something, but his hand may be forced if the Wings don’t get better. 

a hockey player wearing a red shirt: Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jonathan Bernier (45) replaces goaltender Jimmy Howard (35) in the second period against the Nashville Predators, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, in Detroit. © Paul Sancya, AP Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jonathan Bernier (45) replaces goaltender Jimmy Howard (35) in the second period against the Nashville Predators, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, in Detroit.

Larkin balked when asked about Blashill after Monday’s 6-1 loss to the Predators.

“Blash comes to work every day,” he said. “He preaches process. No one questions him in here. He’s a dedicated guy. He has done so much for us. We’re not pointing fingers here — that’s what could make this worse.

"We have to come together. Pointing fingers like that is not going to get us anywhere that we want to be, where Blash and our whole staff worked so hard to put us in a position to get there.”

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If Blashill is feeling the heat, he isn’t letting on.

“I’m not worried about whether my message is getting through or not,” he said. “I think our guys have worked on a consistent basis and I think it’s gotten through. Other than that, I’m not even — to be dead honest with you, I haven’t thought two seconds about it. All we’re thinking about as a coaching staff is getting our guys ready and then those guys have to go out and make the decisions to make the right plays.”

Larkin was composed in the locker room, but his frustration at how badly things have gone was evident in the second period Monday. He took offense to a hit by Ryan Ellis and fought him, earning a roughing penalty that left the Wings short-handed. Larkin said he was hoping to spark his team, but the Predators used the power play to make it 5-1. 

Blashill told Larkin: “I appreciate the competitiveness but we don’t want you fighting.” 

It was the competitiveness of the group that Blashill didn’t like, saying “we had a whole bunch of guys that couldn’t execute a tape-to-tape pass.”

Andreas Athanasiou scored early in the first period, but 10 minutes in, that was the Wings’ only shot on net. How could they not play with more urgency after embarrassing outings at Carolina (7-3) and Florida (4-0)?

“It’s not the coaches, it’s the players in the room,” Abdelkader said. “We have to get the job done. We have to do it right.

“It has to come from within our group. It feels like a broken record. We have to do things right — can’t cheat for offense, can’t make hope plays. When you are going through something like this, you have to simplify. We all have to be pulling on the rope together.”

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Larkin tried not to sound like a broken record, but it’s hard to do otherwise when the ugly losses keep coming.

“What do you say, I guess? It’s tough when you keep getting put down,” he said. “What needs to change is our attitude in the locker room — we need to come together. We need to go out and execute. We need to go out and want the puck. We need to battle for each other. 

“It’s frustrating. Like, you look at us on the ice, one thing goes wrong and we melt. We can’t do that. We need to turn this around. We need to gain some kind of confidence and some kind of togetherness here in this tough time. It’s going to come from the 23 guys in this room.”

Jimmy Howard let in two soft goals among the five he faced in the second period before being pulled with the score at 4-1. He loves playing at MSG and usually performs well there, but he has been pulled in two straight starts. 

There’s a long list of players who need to do better — Athanasiou has one goal among six points and a league-worst minus-18 rating. Valtteri Filppula has six points and is minus-11. Frans Nielsen has yet to pick up a point.

With injuries to veterans Danny DeKeyser, Trevor Daley, Mike Green and Luke Glendening, the only move open to Blashill, barring a call-up, is to insert Christoffer Ehn in place of an under-performer. 

Blashill and Yzerman meet regularly, often huddling in Blashill’s office immediately after home games. 

“We talked for a long time yesterday, talked today,” Blashill said after the Predators game. “We talk about our team, talk about how the guys played. After games you’re reviewing a little bit how guys played, what we think of those things.”

The Wings don’t have the personnel yet to be a playoff team. But they’re capable of playing better than what they have produced the past three games, and that needs to show in New York. 

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Red Wings players defend Jeff Blashill's job after latest ugly loss

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