The playoffs are just under a month away, and the Red Wings will be hitting the golf course at the end of the regular season for the second year in a row.
Sub-par goaltending, a below average defensive unit, and a lack of depth scoring have resulted in a 15-point gap between the Wings and the last wild card position in the playoff standings.
Goaltending has been an unanswered problem for the past two seasons and has become an even bigger problem since the Wings traded Petr Mrazek at this year’s trade deadline.
Jimmy Howard has officially been named the team’s starting goaltender. With a .910 SV% and a 2.85 GAA, his numbers look more like a backup’s.
Howard has been so up and down throughout his career. One month he has league leading numbers, the next he’s at the bottom of the standings.
With a young team around him and the lack of depth scoring the Wings really need a goaltender that is consistent. They don’t necessarily need a goalie that is at the top of the standings at the end of the week, but the up and down stats aren’t helping a team that desperately needs to find a flow to their game.
In Howard’s defense, his teammates aren’t helping his numbers. Only four players have a positive plus/minus stat at this point in the season. Only one of those players is a defenseman, Jonathan Ericsson.
The plus/minus stat is typically a good way to separate a good defensive group from bad when it’s put into a ratio with a player’s time on the ice. Including the amount of offensive vs. defensive zone starts can also help make the results even clearer.
Defensemen are typically in the positive end of the spectrum unless they take a majority of defensive zone starts or are on the penalty kill.
A negative plus/minus spread throughout the whole roster shows that the team is not communicating well on the ice and are giving up too many high-quality chances.
The high-quality chances are possibly the biggest problem. Both teams are going to get chances and shots in a game, that’s inevitable. Teams that are successful limit those high-quality chances and capitalize on their own.
When the Wings faced off against the San Jose Sharks on March 12, odd-man rushes were 3-1 in favor of the Sharks in just the first period. Out of those three, the Sharks capitalized on two of those chances.
The Wings weren’t able to score on their chance causing the game to open up in favor of the Sharks.
The lack of scoring has to put a bunch of pressure on Howard’s shoulders as well. To win a game Howard has to be near perfect to even give his team a chance. That’s a bunch of extra stress to put on a player who already plays one of the most stressful positions in sports.
In recent years, the NHL has turned into a faster and younger league. Young players are receiving more playing time and putting up similar numbers to veteran players for an even cheaper salary cap hit.
The Wings looked like they were headed in the right direction at the beginning of the season. They have the young talent. Players like Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, and Gustav Nyquist had seen some playing time in past seasons and looked poised to take over the next generation of Red Wing stardom.
All of these young players play a speed and skill game. Those characteristics can sometimes lead players to try and make a play all by themselves instead of reading off of other players and making the “safe” play.
Hopefully this season will become a lesson for the team. If they do learn from it then the Wings could experience a quick turn around like the Colorado Avalanche had this year.
Last season the Avalanche were at the bottom of the standings and gave up on the season about halfway through the schedule. This year they currently sit in a playoff spot.
All the success the Wings have had in the past makes it tough on the fans that have taken playoff hockey in Detroit for granted. The good news is that the future should be bright.
It may take a few years, but the Red Wings will see the playoffs again sooner rather than later.