MORLAND: After 22 Seasons, Wings Playoff Streak Could Be in Jeopardy

Henrik Zetterberg by  Michael Miller via Wikimedia Commons

Henrik Zetterberg by Michael Miller via Wikimedia Commons

(@MikeMorland)

January isn’t the time to panic about the playoffs.

With plenty of hockey left to be played (approximately 30 games) and the NHL Olympic break right around the corner, it’s a chance for many teams around the league to rest their ailing rosters. The Red Wings are no different as they hope to recoup important pieces following the Sochi Games. Although the NHL doesn’t publicly release the statistic of man-games lost, the Red Wings currently stand 5th in the NHL with 210. Despite the revolving door to the trainers room, the Wings mediocre season lies deeper than injuries.

As the Red Wing looks to extend the NHL’s longest active playoff streak to 23 seasons, the reality of that streak may be in jeopardy if changes aren’t made, and soon.

Through 49 games this season, the Wings are 21-18-10. In regulation play, they’re barely a .500 team. If you factor in overtime losses to the overall standings, the Red Wings are 21-28 this season. That’s hardly the record of a playoff contender.

For much of the season, the Wings have struggled to close out tight games. At 4-10, Detroit ranks 26th in the league, and of the four teams ranked below them (Philadelphia, Dallas, Carolina and Nashville), only Nashville has fewer victories (2). The Red Wings haven’t been any better in shootouts this season, ranking 25th in the NHL. Only one team, New Jersey, has more losses (8) than the Wings this season.

The Wings struggles this season are also a reflection of their roster.

The Red Wings rank 14th in the NHL in goals against, but they also rank 22nd in goals scored. Their special teams are even more perplexing. Their penalty kill ranks in the top third of the NHL (7th) but their power play has dipped into the bottom third of the league (22nd).

Outside of Datsyuk (15 goals, 14 assists, -2), Zetterberg (15 goals, 17 assists, +14) and Alfredsson (11 goals, 19 assist, +5), Detroit’s veteran core on offense has been a disappointment. Between Bertuzzi, Franzen and Samuelsson, the trio has appeared in just 99 games this season, notching 16 goals, 20 assists and a plus/minus of -10. Newcomer Stephen Weiss was also an early season disappointment before going down with a sports hernia. Without the scoring surge from highly regarded prospects Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist (16 goals, 15 assists, +3), the Wings could find themselves even deeper than the 9th seed in the East.

On defense, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Danny DeKeyser (when healthy) have been key contributors in shoring up an overall weak defense. Despite Brendan Smith and Brian Lashoff’s slow development, its veteran defenseman Kyle Quincey that continues to be the Achilles heel of the defense with a plus/minus of -11 this season.

Detroit’s goaltending has been equally frustrating. Limited to just 29 games this season due to injury, Jimmy Howard hasn’t lived up to the six-year, $31.8 million contract he signed last April. At 9-12-8, Howard’s record is anything but desirable, but with a 2.64 GAA and .916 SV%, there’s hope he can return to form following the Olympic break. With Howard out of the lineup for at least another week (knee), Detroit will lean on the stellar play of veteran backup Jonas Gustavsson (11-3-2, 2.39 GAA, .914 SV%) and promising prospect Petr Mrazek (1-3-0, 1.64 GAA, .924 SV%).

Whether it’s offense, defense or goaltending, it’s clear that the Wings need more stability across the board. With a little more than $416,000 available in cap space, Wings General Manager Ken Holland will need to be creative in order to pull off some type of deal to improve the Wings by the March 5 deadline. If the price isn’t right, Holland may have to stand pat and hope that coach Mike Babcock can right the ship that’s been off course most of the season.

If the Wings are able to get healthy and correct some player personal issues, expect Detroit to punch their playoff ticket for a 23rd consecutive season. If not, hockey’s most consistent team of the last two decades may find itself on the outside looking in.