NHL titans fading

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

It's uncommon for the Detroit Red Wings to be in this type of slump.

Heading into tonight's encounter against the Edmonton Oilers, the Wings have lost eight of their last nine games.

But don't expect them to panic. They're still the best team in the National Hockey League.

"You never, ever want to make excuses, you have to find a way to win in this league every night. It doesn't matter who's in your lineup and who's not," said Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. "But I can tell you right now our team is not quite the same. So it's a good challenge for us."

The Wings are currently playing without six regulars.

They're down four defencemen with Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Brian Rafalski and Chris Chelios out of the lineup. Goaltender Dominik Hasek has yet to return from a hip injury, although he could be healthy enough to back up Chris Osgood tonight. And Daniel Cleary is out with a broken jaw.

"When you're rolling along like we were, the thing that you say you need is adversity," Babcock said. "When you're winning every night, you say you need some. Then when you get it, you don't want it.

"For a period of time there we earned the right to be as bad as we were. We stopped engaging and competing. I thought we got through that when we went to Dallas and lost 1-0, then won in Colorado. But we have to suck it up, get our act together and get playing.

SOLID DEFENSIVELY

"The only way we're going to win right now is by playing solid defensively and hoping it's good enough to beat the other team."

Lidstrom is the Wings' biggest loss. The five-time Norris Trophy winner was slammed into the boards by Avs forward Ian Laperriere last Monday and sprained his right knee. He is expected to be out for at least another two weeks.

"Of course it hurts when you don't have a five-time Norris Trophy winner on your blue-line," said Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg. "But we have to find a way to deal with it and make it easier when they do come back.

"We know we're a good team. We won a lot of games before we went into this slump. We're still leading the league and we just have to battle through it and deal with it. You have to remind everyone that we're good players and we can still win hockey games."

The biggest problem right now for the Wings is that they're not getting any secondary scoring.

Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are the only players seemingly able to put the puck in the net recently.

That might change after today's trade deadline as the Wings are looking to add a piece or two for a Cup run.

"We need to get our team together," said Red Wings general manager Ken Holland. "We had secondary scoring up until the last eight or nine games. We'd like to get some secondary scoring. We'd like to do some of it internally, but certainly if we can make a move where we can add another player to create some offence, we'd like to do that."

Ironically, this stretch could end up helping the Red Wings in the long run.

They expect to have everybody back in the lineup by playoff time, which would once again make them a very formidable opponent.

"We're hopeful we got all our injuries out of the way in the regular season and we're getting freshened up for the playoffs," Babcock said. "We weren't going to give Lidstrom three weeks off. We weren't going to give Hasek, Ralfalski, Kronwall, and Cleary, for that matter, three weeks off. They should be fresh and ready to go when they come back and we'll be a better team."

LOOK AT THE KIDS

For now the Wings are relying on some of their younger players to get them through this stretch. So far they haven't delivered, but they are getting valuable experience.

"We're getting an opportunity to look at these kids," Babcock said. "And instead of being told what they are, we're seeing what they are and what they can do."


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