Continuing to lose over the final 10 games will help the Detroit Red Wings in the 2023 NHL draft lottery, from an organizational standpoint.
But as players keep pointing out: It’s way more fun to win.
Given the strength of their schedule, fun will be challenging to have. This week offers four tests: Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes, Friday at the Winnipeg Jets, and Sunday at the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Penguins are battling to secure a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference; the Hurricanes are battling to secure home-ice advantage through the first two rounds, the Jets have positioning at stake in the Western Conference playoff race, and the Leafs also have home-ice at stake.
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The Wings had a scheduled day off Sunday, after playing five games in eight days. They won only once in that stretch: Tuesday night, 3-2, in a shootout against the St. Louis Blues on the road. They lost two nights later, at home to the Blues, and again Saturday on the road against the Philadelphia Flyers, dropping to 31-32-9.
They only need to win once more to match last season’s 32 victories, and three more points will match last season’s 74.
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Beyond this week, the Wings play on the road against the Montreal Canadiens, followed by a homestand against the Buffalo Sabres, Penguins and Dallas Stars, and then finish on the road against the Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Sabres have managed to stay in the hunt for a wild-card spot, and the Stars likely still will be battling for home-ice advantage. By the time the last two games roll around, however, the Hurricanes and Bolts may be locked into playoff spots and opt to rest star players.
It’s on the Wings to find meaning in these remaining games. They’ve scored only nine goals over their past six games, and were unable to convert on seven power plays in the 3-0 loss to the Flyers.
Since Feb. 23, when winning seven of eight games gave the Wings a brief stay inside the playoff picture, the Wings have gone 3-11-1. Dylan Larkin has a team-leading 11 points in those 15 games, but multiple players being counted on to score have little to show: Lucas Raymond (one goal, six points, minus-9 rating); David Perron (two goals, seven points, minus-8 rating); and Andrew Copp (two goals, seven points, minus-6 rating).
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The teams that finish 22nd and lower in the standings have a shot at winning the draft lottery (teams can’t move up more than 10 spots) and selecting first overall; the Wings entered Sunday in 24th place. It’s on the Wings’ current players to use these final few weeks to show the rebuild has advanced this season. That will require more performances like the ones they put on against the Boston Bruins two weeks ago, when they tested the league’s top team by playing with energy and cohesion.
Performances, more than results, are what will matter as the Wings head into another long offseason.
Contact Helene St. James at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.
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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: What Detroit Red Wings must show Steve Yzerman in final 10 games