Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 3/14/12
LOS ANGELES -- While it may not be time for the Red Wings to panic, it certainly should be time for them to sweat. Under coach Ken Hitchcock, the St. Louis Blues have taken command of the Central Division and the Western Conference. The Blues have 98 points, six ahead of the Vancouver Canucks in the West and seven ahead of the Wings in the Central. The Wings did not do themselves any favors Tuesday night, kicking off their West Coast trip with a 5-2 flop against the Los Angeles Kings. You name it, they failed at it against a team fighting to get into the playoffs. Power play? The Wings were 0-for-3, including generating nothing in 34 seconds of a 5-on-3. Plus, they gave up a shorthanded goal to Anze Kopitar in the first period Penalty kill? The Wings killed off only one of two Kings' power plays. Even strength? The Kings out-scored the Wings 3-2 if you include the empty-net goal that Jeff Carter scored with 20.1 seconds left. "We need the points just as bad as anyone else," defenseman Brad Stuart said. "We're trying to establish a good spot for ourselves, home ice in the first round and beyond. "We've got to pick it up. The desperation level in here should be just as high as the teams fighting to get into the playoffs, no question about it." Yet somehow the Wings didn't seem all that desperate at the start of the game. They didn't get their first shot until Danny Cleary registered one at 8:36 of the first. At that point, it was already 1-0 Kings on a Justin Williams' rebound. The Wings got a little life back when Jiri Hudler scored at 4:06 of the second period, only to watch the energy drain away when Drew Doughty's shot went off a Wing or two, and past Jimmy Howard restoring the two-goal lead. "I don't know how much the power play had to do with anything tonight, I didn't think we played hard enough," coach Mike Babcock said. "I thought they had a simple plan, getting the puck in, getting on the forecheck and grinding. I didn't think we had enough resistance. "In the end, you can talk about the power play and penalty kill if you want but the whole lot of us, we didn't play hard enough. You're not going to win with the approach we had tonight. The other team can't win all the battles and all the races. "I thought we had a real good start to the second period, got it back to 2-1 and as soon as they scored a goal we got deflated and that was it for us. So that makes for a long night." A few more long nights for the Wings could equal a short stay in the playoffs if the match-ups don't end up in the Wings' favor. Even the return of their All-Star goaltender couldn't help. Howard had missed three games and two periods of another with a groin strain and he was not at the level he wanted to be. "I've got a laundry list of things that I thought I could have done a lot better out there," Howard said. "But at the same time, it was the first game back in a week and a half. "I just gotta continue to work hard in practice and just get the rhythm back and the feeling back of being out there. "The game was extremely fast in front of me. I'm going to have to find a way to slow it down 'til I get back to the game speed of things." Of course it would help if two of the Wings' best players, Pavel Datsyuk and captain Nick Lidstrom, were healthy enough to play. Lidstrom missed his seventh straight game and is not expected back on the trip. Datsyuk missed his 10th and has a chance to return against San Jose over the weekend. Without Lidstrom, the Wings are 3-4. Without Datsyuk, they're 3-6-1. "They're huge for our team," Howard said. "They're key players. At the same time, it gives guys an opportunity and a chance to play in a position they might not otherwise be in. "Just because they're out of the lineup, we can't use that as an excuse. We gotta find a way to win games and be better, myself included." If the Wings don't find a way, they could find themselves out of the playoffs. Although unlikely, it's not impossible. The Nashville Predators sit two points back and the Chicago Blackhawks are seven points behind. The race is still too close to call. It can't just be Henrik Zetterberg's line with Valtteri Filppula and Hudler providing all the offense. They have to continue to their steady play and some of the others are going to have to score. And it would help if they got off to some of those hot starts like they had during their record 23-game home winning streak. "We have to make sure we're ready to go from the start," Stuart said. "We can't be playing catch-up. It's not winning hockey." There are 12 games left in the season. If winning hockey doesn't start soon for the Wings, it will be time to panic.
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