‘It’s unacceptable’: Red Wings continue to pile mistakes, missed opportunities

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DETROIT — David Perron has seen some things in his 17-year NHL career. He’s hoisted the Stanley Cup, played in 104 playoff games, and countless more in the month preceding the postseason — the barrier-to-entry games for the real thing.

So, what is he seeing as the Detroit Red Wings’ losing skid hit seven games (all in regulation) in a moment they can’t afford to keep sliding?

“It’s unacceptable,” Perron said Thursday night after a 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes.

It was Detroit’s second loss to the Coyotes in a week — and, excruciatingly, just Arizona’s fourth win since January 22. The kind of game a team in a playoff race just has to win.

Instead? The game ended with the Red Wings being booed off the Little Caesars Arena ice.

“It’s as tough as it gets right now in the room,” Perron said. “We’ve got to find a way to bounce back. We’ve got to find a way to get up and put our pride on the line and be better.”

And yes, the same sentence could have been uttered just two days earlier in Buffalo, when Detroit’s skid already seemed like it had to be at a breaking point.

That loss, a 7-3 trouncing at the hands of the Sabres, ended with head coach Derek Lalonde proclaiming Detroit would spend the next two days concentrating on its start. And for a few minutes, it showed. Detroit was on the puck, drew an early power play and seemed to be engaged.

If there was one thing Lalonde wanted to see coming into the game, it was “to give our goaltender a non-chaotic start,” he said Thursday morning. But that aim didn’t make it through the first power play. With the puck in the corner, Jonatan Berggren whiffed trying to put a puck up the wall to the point, only for the Coyotes to scoop it up and spring off in transition. Dylan Guenther found a streaking Logan Cooley, Moritz Seider stumbled and Cooley’s backhand beat Alex Lyon on the first shot he saw.

It was the last thing the Red Wings needed with how things have been going for them — the wrong mistake at the wrong time.

“I see recently that we get down one and it’s a little bit deflating for the group,” Ben Chiarot said. “It was happening earlier in the year, too. I remember (the) same kind of thing: We’d give up the first goal and kind of get on our heels a little bit. But when we’re playing well and things are going well for us, it doesn’t really bother us. We know we’re going to get the next goal and right now we’ve just kind of lost that confidence that we can do it. Fighting to get that back is what we need.”

In this case, Detroit did get the game back to level before the first intermission, but a letdown clearly set in after Cooley’s goal. A Lucas Raymond power-play goal made it 1-1 before the first intermission, though, and that gave the Red Wings new life for a time.

The problem was that the mistakes weren’t done. Approaching the midway point of the second, Olli Määttä had an uncharacteristic turnover below his own goal line. While he did eventually get the puck back, that sequence ended with him trying to get the puck up the wall to Perron, only for it to be kept in and alive by the Coyotes, who then got a redirection out front for a 2-1 lead. Lalonde said he liked the push he saw from Detroit after that goal, but it was clear all night the Red Wings weren’t going to score easily on Coyotes’ netminder Connor Ingram.

And by the time a Chiarot offensive zone turnover turned into a Coyotes rush and a blown defensive coverage left Nick Bjugstad all alone in the slot, a 3-1 deficit felt overwhelming with 10 minutes remaining.

In a losing skid like the one the Red Wings are on, on which they have earned nary a single standings point in two weeks, there are so many factors and so much blame to go around. But the culprit Perron and Chiarot seemed most focused on was clear.

“What’s been costing us is mistakes that we shouldn’t make at the wrong time,” Perron said. “I don’t know what it is, but find a way to not make it. … We thought maybe at times we were going to make some plays to get to the playoffs, but this league is too good. It keeps you honest. And I think that’s what’s happening a little bit to us right now.”

Stunningly, the Red Wings managed to not lose any ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race Thursday, with the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers both losing, too. But the gravity of the missed opportunity to pick up points is nonetheless massive.

Again, against a bottom-of-the-standings team like Arizona, this was a must-have. And for the second time in a week against this team, Detroit got nothing.

Asked about the lack of scoring, Perron acknowledged it was disappointing, but it wasn’t where his main focus was directed. He’s been around too long to think the way the Red Wings were producing in late February was going to be sustainable.

“You don’t get the same type of offense throughout the whole year,” Perron said. “Like, tentative or not making plays or whatever it is — it’s just different hockey at this time of the year. You don’t outscore your problems all the way through the year. I just don’t believe in that. I haven’t seen a team recently winning the Stanley Cup that way. Over my whole career, I haven’t seen that, and we’ve got to find a way to put a sound, solid game for 60 minutes that we can hang our hat to and be proud of it at the end of the night. And most of the time we’re going to have to allow less than three goals, you know? That’s what it is. If we allow more than that, in this league you don’t win too often. And we can talk about scoring all we want, but we’ve got to play strong defensively before we get to that.”

The Red Wings aren’t doing that. You can argue whether they were really doing it toward the end of their dominant February, either — as their 8-3 win over Washington had a bit of a track-meet feel to it. But now, with or without Dylan Larkin, Detroit clearly isn’t handling these high-stakes games that can be decided by one or two mistakes.

They sit just 3 points ahead of the hard-charging Sabres, the team that beat them 7-3 on Tuesday and coincidentally the next opponent on their schedule for Saturday afternoon.

In other words: The time to learn these lessons has passed. It might have passed a week ago. But on a night the Red Wings could have retaken a playoff spot, in spite of all the mess they’ve made, they let another golden opportunity get away.

“To get this thing going in the right direction, we have to be better defensively,” Chiarot said. “I think you see the chances that we give up, they’re ones that shouldn’t happen, especially at this time of year when everything should be rolling in the same direction. It should be like a machine by this point and just everyone knows exactly where they’re supposed to be and being there at the right time. And we’re not there yet. And we need to get there in a hurry.”

(Photo of John Leonard and Olli Maatta: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

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