“Personally, it’s been rough,” Ouellet admitted after Thursday’s morning skate. “I think every athlete wants to play, wants to contribute. So yeah, it’s not fun to sit for a long period of time. So that’s been a little rough mentally but I guess it’s part of the game. I need to keep working on myself, which I did. I kept working hard in the gym and on the ice so I feel really good physically, now it’s just getting the timing back and feel good and feel better with the puck.”
Ouellet’s name has been mentioned in a few rumors as Monday’s trade deadline approaches but that doesn’t mean he is looking for a fresh start elsewhere.
“I want to play. I’m 24 years old, I think I need to play, personally,” Ouellet said. “I’m a Red Wing today and I want to be a Red Wing. I’ve worked really hard to be where I am here right now. So I’m looking for an opportunity, hopefully it’s here. I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to say.”
Detroit is 1-3-0 in its past four games and trails the Columbus Blue Jackets by eight points for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
The Sabres is 0-2-1 in its past three games and 3-6-2 since the All-Star break. Buffalo has been held to two goals or fewer in six of its past 11. Goaltender Robin Lehner is expected to play after missing one game with an upper-body injury.
Players to watch: Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly has seven points (two goals, five assists) in his past five games, and is second on the team with 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 59 games.
Red Wings center Dylan Larkin, Detroit’s leading scorer with 44 points (nine goals, 35 assists), hasn’t scored a power-play goal since a season-opening 4-2 win against the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 5.
They said it: “We know that we’ve got to get the puck through the neutral zone and dump it in deep. Detroit will be trying to force turnovers and use their speed in transition, and we have to prevent that. We have to take away all of their space.” — Sabres coach Phil Housley
“There can’t be anything like a trap game for this team. We’re fighting for our lives right now, and there aren’t bad teams in this league any more. We need to get these two points.” — Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill
Update #3: Here’s the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan’s game-day update:
Ouellet was a 2011 second-round draft pick whose potential was such that the Red Wings inserted into the lineup during 2013-14 playoffs against Boston. But that kind of confidence has waned in recent years.
He played a career-high 66 games last season, but heading into Thursday, Ouellet had only played in 36 games with four assists and a minus-2 plus-minus rating.
“I have to find my timing back,” Ouellet said. “I feel real good physically, so that’s a good positive. Now, it’s just getting the timing back and execute, get passes tape to tape, get pucks on net, being solid defensively.”
Coach Jeff Blashill wants to see Ouellet play with a higher level of confidence.
“It’s a difficult thing for athletes when they’re out for a while and to step back in and play with the kind of confidence you need to be successful,” Blashill said. “But that’s what he has to do. He has to play with confidence. He’s been a good player in the league going back a number of years. The last couple of times he’s played, he’s come in and not played with that type of confidence and swagger you have to play with to be successful.”
The Red Wings only dressed six defensemen against Buffalo, so Ouellet was going to get a regular shift and more ice time than he’s seen in more than a month.
“When he’s at his best, he’s doing a good job of passing the puck, being physical defensively and hard to play against, and playing with a shot-first mentality,” Blashill said. “Let’s get back to that.”
Update #4: The Free Press’s Helene St. James posted an article about Ouellet as well…
Ouellet’s opportunity comes as Mike Green nurses a sore neck. Green hasn’t played since Feb. 15, but coach Jeff Blashill said Green could be ready by the weekend. Green is the Wings’ top trade asset, but injured players can still be traded so long as the new team is satisfied with the situation.
While Green has value because of his offensive touch, the Wings haven’t found any takers for Ouellet, who has a year left on a contract with a cap hit of $1.25 million. Ouellet’s lack of foot speed has left him a spare part.
“It’s a difficult thing for athletes when they’re out for a while to step back in and play with the kind of confidence that you have to play with to be successful,” Blashill said. “But, that’s what he has to do. He’s been a good player in this league at different times going back a number of years, The last couple times he’s played he’s come in and not played with that type of confidence and swagger that you have to play with to be successful. He has to find it within himself.
“When he’s at his best, he’s doing a good job passing the puck, he’s physical defensively, he’s hard to play against and he’s a shot-first mentality. He’s got to trust his feet and go out and play.”
Ouellet trained with a skating coach last summer.
“I need to keep working on my skating, that’s for sure,” he said. “But the big thing is timing — the more you play, you find your speed and you can angle the guys a little better. That goes with playing, but at the same time, I need to keep working on my skating every day.”
And St. James posted a video of Ouellet and Blashill’s game-day comments:
From WGR 550’s Paul Hamilton
Scott Wilson won two Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh, but the Penguins were always looking to add players, not sell. Despite that, Wilson doesn’t see much difference, “I think honestly it’s kind of the same. Every team at the deadline, there’s a few guys on each team that could be moved or other teams want, so it’s not really talked about as much as you think.”
The Sabres play Wilson’s old team Detroit. Pittsburgh traded him to Detroit on Oct. 21. He only played 17 games with the Red Wings before heading to Buffalo. Wilson had no points in 20 games with Detroit and Pittsburgh and he’s looking forward to playing in Detroit tonight, “Hockey is a business and at the end of the day, it doesn’t always go your way, but I’ve been feeling pretty good as of late, kind of finding myself a little bit so I’ll definitely have an extra step tonight.”
Wilson has three goals and two assists for five points in his last six games.