The Detroit Red Wings have been hampered by a series of key injuries – team captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen, Jakub Kindl, Darren Helm, Patrick Eaves, Jonathan Ericsson and goaltenders Jimmy Howard and Joey McDonald, amongst others. And while Lidstrom’s, Kindl’s and Howard’s returns are imminent and Pavel Datsyuk has recently returned from missing 11 games with arthroscopic surgery on his knee, the Wings have struggled mightily during the month of March, going winless in 8 of their past 9 and 11 of their past 14 games, including a six-game winless streak (0-4-2). Not coincidentally, their slide began when Lidstrom was sidelined with a deep ankle bone bruise.
In fact, tonight’s slate against the Carolina Hurricanes is an important one in that the Red Wings are trying to avoid their longest winless streak in over 20 years, a seven-game winless streak dating back to January 14-30, 1991.
Through all of the struggles, the Red Wings have still maintained their hold on the 4th position in the Western Conference standings, something critical for a team whose road woes – 16-20-3 on the road vs. a 28-5-2 mark in the friendly confines of Joe Louis Arena – are cause for concern, particularly during the Stanley Cup playoffs when home ice advantage is at its least impact to a visiting squad.
While the Red Wings have recently gotten or are going to get key performers back for their final 8 games of the regular season, the question is whether they can regain their stride, their mojo.
So, besides injuries, what has been the problem with the NHL’s premier dynasty over the past 15 plus seasons?
Goal Scoring – the Red Wings have scored a total of 17 goals in their past nine games, averaging less than two goals per game. Given that the Red Wings rank 3rd in the Western Conference in goals scored, a precipitous drop from nearly 3.2 goals per game to their current 2.90 goals per game has certainly affected their ability to claim victories.
Goaltending – Jimmy Howard ranks 6th in the NHL in Goals Against Average (GAA) of 2.05 and 10th in Save Percentage (Save%) .920; however, Howard’s statistics have been far less stellar during the Red Wings recent slide, with a GAA of 2.70 and a Save% of .899 dating back to February 12th. His backup, Joey McDonald, who is also recovering from a groin injury, has also struggled during the period in which he was healthy during the month of February, with a GAA of 3.25 and a Save% of .827 versus his season’s totals of a 2.16 GAA and a Save% of .912.
Special Teams – the Red Wings usual stellar performance with the man advantage has suffered since Lidstrom’s injury as the Red Wings currently rank 19th on the Power Play, this for a team who ranked 4th during the previous season in this category. Also, their penalty kill has struggled – the Red Wings rank 21st while short-handed, versus being in the middle of the pack – 15th – last season.
No matter their issues with performance and injuries, the Red Wings have to reclaim their mojo and build some momentum going into the playoffs. Having three of their next four and six of their last eight games at home will certainly help, as will playing the likes of Carolina and Columbus during their next three games; however, the Red Wings then face the Nashville Predators, the Florida Panthers, the New Jersey Devils, the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues, all of which are slated to make the Stanley Cup playoffs but are desperately fighting to secure playoff positioning themselves.
And for a team with such a prestigious legacy, the Red Wings have to find and secure their mojo, starting tonight against the Hurricanes.