DETROIT — The Detroit Red Wings are so desperate for help defensively that they signed a player who was trying out for a minor-league team, and then promptly put him in the lineup a few hours later for the home opener.
Over the last couple years, the Wings have lost three of their four best defensemen, including captain Nicklas Lidstrom. They’re also currently without three injured players — Jakub Kindl (groin), Jonathan Ericsson (hip) and Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) — who figure into their defensive rotation this year.
What’s more, Ian White, one of their more reliable defensemen, left Tuesday night’s game against the Dallas Stars in the third period. He suffered a severe gash above his left knee after getting struck by the skate blade of Wings goalie Jimmy Howard. White was taken to a hospital for treatment, and the team said Wednesday morning that he will miss two to three weeks.
Nonetheless, that depleted defense wasn’t the reason the sellout crowd of 20,066 at Joe Louis Arena started leaving early and went home disappointed.
The Wings (1-2) nearly got shutout for the second time in their first three games, losing 2-1 after they finally scored with 3.4 seconds remaining.
“It was a fairly easy first 50 minutes,” Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen, who made 19 of his 39 saves in the final period, said of the Wings’ lethargic offensive performance early on.
The Red Wings failed to score, and got only four shots, during four power-play opportunities covering eight minutes.
In retrospect, they fell into the trap of trying to make the perfect play instead of just getting the puck to the net and attacking for rebound opportunities.
“It was one-and-done all the time,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “One shot and then we have to go down 200 feet to get the puck again. It wears us down.
“We think too much. We try to make the tough passes. It’s back to keep it simple.”
The Wings, not surprisingly, missed Lidstrom, who ran the point on the power play, and Tomas Holmstrom, who had a knack for screening the goalie. Both are in retirement.
Coach Mike Babcock didn’t like the team’s approach with the man advantage.
“It was no good, eh?” he said. “We’d pass it around, pass it around, pass it around. If you don’t shoot it and get it back and you don’t crash the net, you never score on the power play.
“When we had Nick and we had Homer (Holmstrom), one was at the net and one shot the puck every time. We’re just ‘Give it to the next guy,’ but we’ll get that fixed.”
Babcock acknowledged that he anticipated some of the Wings’ struggles in this one.
They had opened the season with a 6-0 loss Saturday in St. Louis, came back to win a shootout Monday at Columbus and then returned home for the second of back-to-back games.
“When you play three games in four nights and you’ve had five days of training camp, that’s way different than having five weeks of training camp and playing three games in four nights,” Babcock said. “I thought we looked like we were out of gas. We didn’t have much zip.
“I understood coming into this game what it might be like. We’re a team in flux right now, but we’re going to be better.”
Dallas (2-1) also was in its third game in four nights, having played Saturday and Sunday before traveling to Detroit and getting Monday off.
Howard made key save after key save to keep the Red Wings in a one-goal game. He stopped 17 shots, many of them quality chances, in the second period alone when the Stars had an opportunity to put it away.
Howard gave up two goals to Michael Ryder, one early in the first period and the other early in the second period.
But Howard made up for many of the Wings’ other defensive miscues, including some turnovers by the forwards that led to trouble.
“They could have had us by a touchdown after the second,” Babcock said. “I thought Howie gave us every chance in the world.”
In the end, it came down to the inability to create enough prime scoring chances and finishing the ones they did get.
The Wings applied intense pressure on Lehtonen at the end, especially after pulling their goalie with about 1:45 remaining.
Rookie Damien Brunner, who scored the winner with a spectacular move in Monday’s shootout, got his first true NHL goal when he put a rebound past Lehtonen in the final seconds.
Too little, too late, you know.
Maybe the expected return by forwards Todd Bertuzzi (illness/groin injury) and Darren Helm (pulled back muscle) for Friday’s game against Minnesota will help generate some more offense.
A 48-game shortened season can get away from a team quickly, particularly one that faces the type of travel that the Wings do in playing mostly teams outside their time zone.
With the predictable issues on defense not likely to go away any time soon and the current failures on offense, the only thing the Wings really have going for them at this point is Howard’s performance on Tuesday night.
It just gives their goalie very little room for error.
Defenseman Kent Huskins made his Red Wings’ debut after being signed to a one-year, $750,000 contract and arriving in Detroit earlier in the day.
The move became necessary after Colaiacovo, who could be out for a while, was injured Monday against Columbus.
Huskins, a 33-year-old unrestricted free agent, played 25 games last season with St. Louis. He was a sixth-round pick by Chicago in 1999 and has played the last six years in the NHL.
He’s not flashy, but the Wings hope he’s solid. They scouted him recently during his two-game minor-league tryout with Norfolk of the American Hockey League.
Huskins got the call from his agent early Tuesday morning.
“It was a really exciting morning after the uncertainly over the last few months, not sure where I was going to wind up,” he said. “I went to the arena there in Norfolk, got my gear, said bye to the guys and packed my stuff up at the hotel, went to the airport and flew here and drove to the rink.”
Babcock said he thought Huskins did a solid job under the circumstances in his debut.
“Seems like a good kid,” Babcock said before adding, “I hardly know anything about him.”