DETROIT – The sky wasn’t so bright, Pavel Datsyuk didn’t need to wear eye black.
“No sun,” he said. “In Detroit, no sunny days. We start winning it might be sunny.”
These are gloomy days for the Red Wings, losers of six straight dating to their last victory Dec. 6. Amid a torrent of injuries, they spent Wednesday afternoon practising outdoors at Comerica Park with the hope that will get them re-focused.
Coach Mike Babcock fondly recalls playing on a frozen pond near Wapoos Bay in Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, growing up. The stadium that Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers call home isn’t that, but it was still special for him and his players.
“You try to do enough team-building stuff throughout the year to change things up, to break up the monotony,” Babcock said Wednesday afternoon standing on what’s usually the middle of the infield. “It’s always fun to be outside.”
Babcock considered cancelling the pre-arranged outdoor practice following Tuesday night’s 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks down the street at Joe Louis Arena. Because it was promoted as a chance for fans to come out and watch for free, that wasn’t an option.
“It’s always good not to react in those situations anyway,” Babcock said. “It was good. We had a good little practice and more important than our practice we had a good meeting here this morning. We’ve got to get things right.”
There are a lot of things to get right given that the Red Wings have scored a total of seven goals in their past six games. They’ve picked up two points from shootout losses, but that’s all they have to show for a week and a half of play.
Naturally, the mood inside the locker room, with HBO’s “24/7” cameras capturing it, hasn’t been great.
“You don’t feel very good when you’re losing, and I think everyone feels the same way,” defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. “We have to stop this right now. Enough’s enough. It’s almost like we’ve been doing enough talking. We know what to do out there. It’s a matter of going out there and actually doing it, not just saying we should do it.”
Injuries have a lot to do with the losing. The Red Wings are missing eight regulars, including captain Henrik Zetterberg (back), goaltender Jimmy Howard (knee), forwards Johan Franzen (concussion), Justin Abdelkader (concussion), Stephen Weiss (groin), Gustav Nyquist (groin), Darren Helm (shoulder) and defenceman Danny DeKeyser (shoulder).
Even with a few AHL players in the lineup, Babcock and his players figure the results should be better.
“I still think that we’re a hell of a better team than we were (Tuesday) night,” Kronwall said. “If we just work hard enough and we stick to the game plan and play within our structure we’re going to be just fine regardless of who’s in or who’s not.”
Veteran winger Daniel Alfredsson didn’t skate Wednesday, but Babcock explained it as a 41-year-old getting a day off. Alfredsson missed five games in November with a groin injury, and if he’s unable to play Thursday against the Calgary Flames, that’s another hole to fill.
Abdelkader skated for the first time since suffering a concussion Saturday on an illegal head shot from Deryk Engelland of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Engelland was suspended five games, while Abdelkader would like to play in the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 1 but has no official time frame on returning.
“I feel good so far,” Abdelkader said. “No contact yet, but working my way back. It’s a process and we’ll see. As long as I have no setbacks, we’ll see what happens.”
The Red Wings as a team are in wait-and-see mode because this is an unprecedented winless streak for this group. Their attention Wednesday was on breaking the streak against the Flames.
“We really can’t think to much about the past, we have to really put all of the focus on the next game and that game only,” goaltender Jonas Gustavsson said. “It’s not like we’re going to win five games at once. We got to win one game and go from there.”
Thinking day to day, the practice at Comerica Park was about more than just hockey.
“Coach talked about our attention to detail needs to be better, so I think guys were trying to be focused and get that stuff done,” forward Luke Glendening said. “But at the same time we were trying to have fun and enjoy the atmosphere.”
It’s not exactly the atmosphere the Leafs and Red Wings will have on New Year’s Day. The Winter Classic itself will be played 45 minutes away in Ann Arbor, but other events like the alumni exhibition and game between the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and Grand Rapids Griffins will take place at Comerica Park.
So this wasn’t really a chance for the Red Wings to get a feel for the ice conditions as much as perhaps get a feel for the air playing outside. Psychologically it could provide a boost.
“(Skating outside) takes more energy, (it’s) more fun,” Datsyuk said. “We’re really having a tough time (trying) to breathe now.”
For about an hour, the Red Wings could breathe in the chilly air. And maybe they’ll get a fringe benefit from being on the same field that the Tigers played on during their runs to the American League Championship Series and World Series in the past three years.
“The Tigers have a lot of success here,” Babcock said. “Could use some of that to rub off on us.”
—Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at @SWhyno.