The latest generation of Detroit Red Wings’ fans doesn’t have a clue what it is like to not see their team in the Stanley Cup playoffs. For 25 consecutive years, the team from Motown has competed in the tournament to decide who would take home sport’s ultimate prize.
They may get their first taste of that this year, as the Red Wings currently sit outside of the playoff picture 46 games into the season and little about their body of work indicates that things might work out for them.
Detroit gained some ground Friday night, losing but getting a point after taking the game against the Buffalo Sabres. Leaving a point on the table at this point in the season, against the team that sits in last place in their division, is something they can’t afford to do.
Espeically when they were able to take the lead on two separate ocassions.
It’s hard to pinpoint one particular area of struggle because it has been a complete effort of disappointment. Detroit sits in the bottom ten in both goals for, and goals against while also sporting the league’s worst power play unit.
Losing Pavel Datsyuk was going to hurt, on both sides of the ice, but little could have predicted they would have seen this kind of decrease in production. With Datsyuk on his way back over to Russia, even with Henrik Zetterberg still, on the roster, it was supposed to be the young guys taking over on the ice.
That hasn’t happened. Prized youngster Dylan Larkin has taken a step back, only registering 12 goals and 20 points to this point in the year. That puts him on a 21 goal, 32 point pace this year, both of which would be a drop in production from his rookie year.
Tomas Tatar continues his three-year point slide, and it’s a very real possibility he won’t break the 40 point plateau after topping 50 during the 2014-2015 season. Gustav Nyquist is heading down a similar path in the goals department, as his current pace has him failing to reach his 17 goals from a year ago. Not too long ago he pushed 30 goals in back-to-back season.
After losing his starting job last year, Jimmy Howard bounced back and retook the net, but an injury suffered has helped sink the Red Wings. He is about two-thirds into a 4-6 week timeframe in returning to action.
The man he lost his starting job to, Petr Mrazek, like so many youngsters on the Red Wings roster took a step back. Posting a sub-.900 save percentage in 27 games played this year. Of all goalies who have played at least 1,000 minutes at 5v5, Mrazek has the sixth worst score, zone, and venue adjusted save percentage.
He has done this while facing the tenth least shot attempts against per 60 minutes as well. So despite not having as busy a workload as possible, he is still getting beat more often.
The blue line has been beaten up, not doing Mrazek any favors. They have been without Brendan Smith and Niklas Kronwall for some time and while they are expected back soon, the defensive group as a whole has been underwhelming.
Only two points out of a wildcard spot, and another five from being one of the top three in the Atlantic, the Red Wings have dug themselves out of worse holes than this during their consecutive playoff streak.
This team has a different feel, though, and even if Howard returns and plays like he did before he got hurt, does he have enough help up front for the Red Wings to make up the points difference? They currently sit 23rd in the league in points percentage, putting them at about an 83 point pace this season. Last year’s second wildcard team in the East finished with 96 points, and there is no reason to believe that number wouldn’t be about the same this season.
Which puts the Red Wings’ playoff streak in serious jeopardy, regardless of how close they are at the moment.