Let’s go back to February 28th. The Red Wings just capped one of the toughest road trips of the season at 4-1-1, beating the likes of Chicago, San Jose, a desperate Dallas team, and the then-best team in the NHL, the Nashville Predators. They were a point away from snagging the number two seed and had 81 points with 20 games to go in the regular season.
Since then, the Wings have gone 4-7-1, falling nine points behind Tampa Bay and 10 behind division leading Montreal. In that span, Detroit has scored over 2 goals just four times, scoring only one goal three times. They have given up 42 goals total, an average of 3.5 per game. Injuries have piled up, as Pavel Datsyuk, Erik Cole, and Riley Sheahan have missed or will miss time. Goaltender Jimmy Howard’s save percentage during this stretch? .866, with his two worst games coming the past two.
It’s not just one culprit.
March has not been kind to the Detroit Red Wings, and in nearly all aspects of the game, something has gone awry. The offense has been drier than usual until the past two games, the once-strong defense has faltered tremendously, falling to 17th in terms of goals against per game at a 2.63 clip. The penalty kill has been an issue, allowing 15 goals in the last 15 games played. Jimmy Howard has not been himself, as evidenced earlier.
There are key players in this slump that have struggled mightily in terms of goal scoring, including the likes of Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, and Henrik Zetterberg. Zetterberg since his hattrick against the Sabres has scored two goals in 23 games. Nyquist has three goals his last 23 games, accruing seven assists in that span. Tatar has five goals his last 23, netting 12 assists. Power forward (I love saying that) Justin Abdelkader has been a saving grace this month, scoring nine goals and continuing his career season.
Datsyuk has been a point-per-game player but has not been able to play the last five games. His presence would be very welcoming in helping to get the big guns out of their slumps, but at the same time with the way these players performed earlier in the year, it’d be an opportune time to regain that form, with or without him.
Defensively, flashbacks of last year have been occurring. Just look at this stat.
Red Wings this season: October-February: 3 games giving up 5+ goals March: 5 games giving up 5+ goals
— caleb (@WingedOctopus) March 27, 2015
They’ve gotten away from it, that’s for sure. After giving up eleven goals the past two to Arizona and San Jose, Mike Babcock promised a change at yesterday’s practice.
“We talked about the fact that we got to be way better in net. We got to be better on the back. We got to be better up front. But the puck’s in our net all the time. We’ve scored eight goals in the last two games and we’ve chased both games from start to finish. Our urgency and our focus in all positions … it’s easy in life to blame everyone else. When you’re the coach you have to look at yourself. When you’re a goalie you have to look at yourself, and when you’re a D-man you have to look at yourself, or a forward. The bottom line is you got to trust one another. You all got to do your part. We got to do our part better.”
Trusting his defense to work out of the funk, no changes have been made to today’s starting defensive lineup against the Lightning, much to the disappointment of many, including myself, especially on the top pairing (see Jonathan Ericsson)
Getting back to the goaltending, it’s Petr Mrazek today over Jimmy Howard, who just looked fragile in the past couple of games capping off his nightmare stretch. Babcock stresses that it’s Mrazek who has a big opportunity that only he can seize against the Atlantic Division rival and possibly beyond.
“When you get your opportunity it’s to seize your opportunity. So it’s no different for Pete Mrazek. He gets an opportunity. He’s got to seize it. We just watch and they decide who plays, not us. Everyone thinks the coach decides. All the coach does is observe, (it’s) no different than you do. He just does it from a different perspective. And then the guys who play the best get to play.”
Mrazek has won nine of his past 13 starts at the NHL level, beating the likes of the St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, New York Islanders, and Pittsburgh Penguins. In that span he’s allowed two goals or less seven times, posting a shutout against the Avalanche. He allowed five however, his last start against the Lightning on 15 shots.
For a better fate today and down the stretch, the Red Wings need something they haven’t had consistently this month, a team effort. Helping out Petr Mrazek would do wonders for his confidence that bursts at the seams every time he steps into the goal crease. Offensively, the team has scored enough to win the past two, with the afformentioned Tatar and Nyquist scoring one goal each in the past two games.
Defensively it will be a tough test in shutting down the amount of weapons Tampa has, but the Wings have been known to play better in front of the 23-year old netminder. Defenseman Niklas Kronwall knows that it’s about playing sound and helping whoever is in the net, something the Wings have to do down the stretch to secure a playoff berth.
“(the goalies) stole games for us. “They’re a big reason why we’re at where we’re at right now. We know it’s there. We know as players we can do a lot better than we have been. So as a unit, as a team, we have to be better.”
Quotes courtesy of Bill Roose and DetroitRedWings.com