The Detroit Red Wings Fight To Find Their Footing

The Detroit Red Wings are one of the NHL’s proudest franchises, and by season’s end we might see another demonstration of that. Right now though, the Red Wings are kind of puttering along. They have 50 points, which puts them as one of a group of eight teams jousting for five playoff berths in the Eastern Conference (Pittsburgh, Boston and Tampa Bay having separated themselves at the top).

Are the Red Wings destined for mediocrity in 2014, or will we see a turnaround? Let’s take a closer look at what they’ve done and speculate on what might lie ahead.

Detroit had problems offensively all last year, as they barely scraped into the playoffs, before finding themselves to upset 2-seed Anaheim and scare the hell out of 1-seed Chicago. I was willing to write off some of the offensive woes due to the strange nature of the 2013 NHL season—the lockout meant minimal preparation, and the shortened season meant not enough games for things to balance out. It was to be expected we would see anomalies.

The early returns this year suggest it was no anomaly. Detroit is 20th in goals scored, and with their ability to generate shots only ranking 17th, you can’t write it off to bad luck. Daniel Cleary is not productive, nor is Daniel Alfredsson, the forward acquired from Ottawa in the offseason to spruce up the attack.

To make matters worse, Pavel Datsyuk, one of the team’s consistent threats over the years, and with 15 goals/34 assists this season, is now out indefinitely with a lower body injury (NHL injury reports are always vague—Bill Belichick would love coaching in this league). The Wings have been further hurt by the loss of forward Johan Franzen to a concussion, and no timetable for his return.

The defensive situation is better, but not sufficient to overcome a bad offense. Detroit ranks 14th in goals allowed, and is marginally better at shot prevention, where they rank 11th. Goaltender Jimmy Howard has dealt with injuries of his own this year, and is only 26th in save percentage, at 91.3%.

If Howard gets healthy and back to being the top ten goalie that he is, that can lift the defensive ranking. And Detroit does excel at killing power plays, a trait that will keep them in a lot of games. Nor can we overlook the offensive contribution that continues to be made night-in, night-out, from the magnificent Henrik Zetterberg, who has 37 assists.

This is still a team that knows how to play fundamental hockey and moves the puck, as the assist numbers of both Zetterberg and Datsyuk prior to his injury demonstrate. The question right now is whether that’s enough. If this were any other organization, I would say no. Because it’s the Detroit Red Wings, we have a reasonable basis for assuming they’ll come up with solutions, and if they sneak into the playoffs as a low seed (6 thru 8), it’s about the last thing any of the favorites would want.