Undermanned Red Wings can’t afford to play catch-up hockey

DETROIT — The Red Wings are working hard, their kids are getting better by the day but they’re still undermanned.

So the last thing they can afford to do in these final games as they attempt to make the playoffs for the 23rd straight season is fall behind early.

Catch-up hockey is losing hockey.

Mike Babcock

It’s why coach Mike Babcock always says, "Catch-up hockey is losing hockey."

Yet that’s exactly what happened Thursday night at home against the Montreal Canadiens, who had plenty of their rabid fans at Joe Louis Arena.

Tomas Plekanec had scored twice before the Wings could even find their skating legs.

"That’s two games in a row that we got behind and it’s unacceptable," Babcock said. "We’ve played so much hockey that I gave them an optional (Wednesday) and not many guys went onto the ice. Looked like we couldn’t skate at the start of the game. You can bet it won’t be an optional (Friday)."

Defenseman Niklas Kronwall said the Wings weren’t skating well or executing with the puck in the first.

"We had the puck on our tape a lot of times in our zone and we gave it back to them, whether that was in our zone, the neutral zone or around the blue lines," Kronwall said. "We didn’t execute at all and that gave them a lot of momentum."

The Wings do deserve credit for never giving up, but whenever they would draw close or tie, the Canadiens would respond.

Riley Sheahan scored just 1:28 into the second but David Desharnais scored to restore the two-goal lead through two.

The Wings even managed to tie the game in the third on two goals by Tomas Tatar but 1:18 later, Max Pacioretty gave the Canadiens back the lead.

"As soon as we tied it, I was believing we can turn this around because whole team got pumped but they scored right away," Tatar said. "Those kind of moments can put you down."

Although replay showed Desharnais was offsides on Pacioretty’s goal, the linesmen never saw it.

"You work hard and you earn your own breaks," Babcock said. "We put ourselves in a bad spot by getting behind early and then never caught up. Those guys on the ice, the referees and the linesmen, are trying to do it right.”

Johan Franzen scored to pull the Wings within one at 11:36 of the third but Brendan Smith took a hooking penalty with 3:01 to play, effectively ending the Wings’ final hopes at another comeback.

"They threw everything they had at us," Canadiens goaltender Carey Price said. "That’s a good hockey club. There’s no question about it. They play well together even through the injuries they’ve had all season. They still find a way to bring it every night. I think a lot of it has to do with their coaching staff. Every point’s huge at this point in the season."

And that is the point for the Wings, that they need as many points as they can get.

Of their remaining nine opponents, only the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes have losing records. 

They play at Toronto Saturday and the Maple Leafs have 80 points, same as the Wings. Sunday the higher-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning come to town. 

Then the following Wednesday it’s the Boston Bruins and their 106 points at the Joe.

"We are trying," Tatar said. "It’s not like we don’t know what’s going on. We just didn’t start the game well. We couldn’t get them. We can’t just hope we will win after one good period so we have to be better. We know we gotta start from the get-go and from the beginning. 

"We just have to play better."