DETROIT — These are challenging days indeed for the Detroit Red Wings.
This is a team so accustomed to making the playoffs that rookie defenseman Danny DeKeyser literally has no memory of them not doing so.
The last time they missed postseason play was in the 1989-90 season. DeKeyser, a Detroit native, was born March 7, 1990.
After Thursday night’s 3-2 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks, the Wings sit in eighth place with 44 points.
There’s so little margin for error left.
The Phoenix Coyotes are ninth with 42 points, the Dallas Stars are 10th with 41 and the Columbus Blue Jackets are 11th, also with 41. The Stars have a game in hand.
The Wings can certainly make the playoffs but it won’t be easy.
“We gotta start winning games,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We’ve got to get two points, we can’t just lose a couple, get one point. We gotta get those two-pointers, otherwise we won’t have it in our own hands anymore.”
Zetterberg tersely acknowledged that they are paying close attention to what the other teams in the conference are doing each night, but it’s an uncomfortable place to be, relying on others to lose rather than just winning.
“We want to hit our high right now,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “It’s a little bit frustrating for us, but we have to stay patient as well. We know we’re not going to play perfect games the rest of the way here, but we want to be able to compete as hard as we can out there.”
The Wings did not compete very well in the first period, allowing the Sharks to take the lead and momentum by giving up an odd-man rush on their own power play, leading to Patrick Marleau’s shorthanded goal.
“We enjoyed the atmosphere first period,” Pavel Datsyuk joked.
After the game, the Sharks’ Twitter account bragged about holding Datsyuk to one point in three games this season.
These aren’t the early 2000s. The Wings have a lot of great talent but they aren’t more talented than many of the other teams out there. So one period of poor play can be enough to prevent them from making the playoffs at this point.
“When you look at the standings, every point, every game is huge for us,” said defenseman Jakub Kindl, who scored his first career power-play goal in the third period. “We have to do all of the dirty things too, like going to the net, drive their D. So we have to do whatever it takes to score goals and win some hockey games.”
Scoring goals, that would definitely help.
At 101 goals, the Wings are ahead of only three teams in the Western Conference and 28 goals behind first-place Chicago, their opponent Friday night.
“If you’ve been watching us, you know how we score, we don’t score, we don’t score that good so we got to keep grinding,” coach Mike Babcock said.
It should help that Damien Brunner is back after missing three games. Brunner is one of two players who has double-digit goals with 11 (Datsyuk has 13). He had three shots on net Thursday but did not score.
“I think we’re doing a lot of good things,” Zetterberg said. “The last game against the Blues, I think we played good. But we can’t really score. And today we got two, one on the power play there but I think we had more opportunities. We gotta be better on special teams. If we do that, I think it will help us.”
The teams they play in the last eight games won’t be helping the Wings. After Chicago, the Wings travel to Nashville, Calgary and Vancouver. They’re 9-8-2 on the road.
They then return home to play Phoenix, Los Angeles and Nashville before finishing in Dallas April 27.