Wings unhappy slumming it

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

DETROIT -- What's a nice team like you doing in a place like this?

And we don't mean filthy Joe Louis Arena, where the roaches are so grossed out by the floors they've started carrying hand sanitizer.

We mean 10th in the West.

Some teams, you expect to see slumming around the NHL's low-rent district. Some teams have been bums for so long their third jersey logo should be a guy with a rusty shopping cart holding up a cardboard sign asking if anyone can spare any points.

Not Detroit.

Not this deep into the season.

This dark and depressing area beneath the playoff cutline is entirely unfamiliar territory for an elite organization that is already homesick for the top.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say this was a little weird, given the success that we've had and the teams we've been able to put out there," said veteran grinder Kirk Maltby surveying a room that's finished first or second in the West 13 of the last 15 years (the other two years they were third).

"We've always found a way to be up there no matter what time of year it is."

So to be in 10th, in December, well, it gives them the creeps just saying it.

"This is a wake-up call for us," said Maltby, who'd like to see everything returned to its natural order as quickly as possible. "I don't want to be sitting here with you after the Olympic break having the same conversation."

They're having it now because of the same gators that drag a lot of teams into the murky water -- key injuries, key departures and an inability to adapt.

After going to Game 7 of the 2009 Cup final, the Wings lost Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson to off-season movement and Valtteri Filppula (wrist), Niklas Kronwall (knee), Johan Franzen (knee), Jason Williams (leg), Andreas Lilja (concussion) to injuries. Brian Rafalski (back) and Patrick Eaves (ankle) are questionable for tonight against Edmonton.

Not a lot of teams can say they're every bit as beat up as the Oilers, but let's just say the Wings don't want to hear any woe-is-us stuff coming out of the visitors' room.

"Panic is a waste of time, so is frustration," said Wings coach Mike Babcock. "You can make excuses, or you can get on with your life. The people who are hurt on our team aren't helping us make the playoffs. That's the facts. So we have to change how we play. Every time we had an injury it took us a little bit to recover from that injury.

"We came in here for a morning skate the other day and lost Patrick Eaves, I don't know how that happens. That's just the way it goes sometimes. I guess what I'd say to you is 'who cares?' Find a way to make it go, doesn't matter what your name is. Play hard for the team and dig in. That's it. It's simple."

While those around them wring their hands and predict the end of the Wing dynasty, they don't. This is a team with remarkable depth and poise, and when you walk into the room there isn't an ounce of gloom.

"We came out of the gate a little slow, blew some leads, and we're missing some key players," shrugged Dan Cleary. "But I still like our team. We're playing well as of late."

After losing five of six games, they've won two in a row, snapping a 116-minute, home-ice scoreless drought in their win over Dallas.

They'll pull out of this, they say. This is Detroit.

"Two years ago, we went the whole month of February and didn't win a game, it seemed like an eternity," said Maltby. "Every team, doesn't matter who it is, is going to have struggles. What matters is how you come out of it and what you take from it."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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