The sky is falling! Panic in Detroit!
Now that I have attracted all the naysayers and nervous Nellies the way an accident attracts gawkers, let’s all take a deep breath and exhale.
Things are going to be OK in Detroit this season. Maybe not great but definitely OK.
Two lousy games in Sweden is not enough of a sample to conclude that the Red Wings have fallen from their perch atop the Central Division, but it is enough to draw some conclusions on where this team needs to improve.
The Red Wings have lost a lot from the team that finished one win shy of hoisting back-to-back Stanley Cups, but maybe not enough to be passed by the Chicago Blackhawks or any other team in the Central.
The net loss in offense from last year’s team is 48 goals. Sounds like a big number, but that only takes into consideration the departures of Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler, Mikael Samuelsson and Tomas Kopecky and arrivals of Jason Williams, Todd Bertuzzi and Patrick Eaves. Factor in the promotions of Ville Leino who should score 20 goals and Darren Helm who could contribute 10 goals, that narrows the difference to a loss of 18 goals. The Red Wings led the league in goals last year with 295 beating the Bruins by 21 goals. The point is the Red Wings can overcome a loss of firepower.
What they can’t afford is playing worse team defense and more specifically on the penalty kill and in goal. Two areas of concern that have carried over from last season.
And both of those areas have created some cause for concern through the first two games.
The penalty killing has allowed four goals on nine opportunities for a success rate of 55.5% in the two games in Sweden. And this is an area the team knew it had to improve from last season when it ranked 25th with a success rate of 78.3%.
This may be a personnel issue as Eaves was acquired for his ability to kill penalties and Helm has the skills to be an effective penalty killer, and neither player was in the lineup in Sweden. Or it may be a systems issue. In 2007-08 the Red Wings killed 84% of their penalties, 7th best in the league, and was directed by then assistant head coach Todd McLelland. McLelland became the head coach of the San Jose Sharks last season and the Sharks continued to be among the best teams at killing penalties while the Red Wings plummeted to 25th.
And in goal Chris Osgood can’t play any worse than he did last season. But what if he plays as poorly as he did last year? The real question becomes can Jimmy Howard play as well as Ty Conklin did last year when he went 25-11-2 with a goals against average of 2.51 and a save percentage of .909 while splitting the starting duties with Osgood?
Red Wings fans have been hearing and waiting for Howard for six years since the team drafted him 64th overall (third goalie selected) in 2003. Howard was characterized as “a fundamentally sound goalie who is quick on his feet capable of hot streaks” by The Hockey News in their 2003-04 Annual Yearbook. Since then the publications scouting reports have lamented his streakiness and pointed out that he needed to be more consistent in order to make it to the NHL.
Well he has made the jump to the NHL this season, not because he has become more consistent but rather, because the team has run out of options and can’t send him to the minors without taking the chance they would lose him through waivers.
So he has earned the role of Osgood’s backup by winning just one of nine starts with Detroit over a four year period. Certainly not the most inspiring credentials that he can replace Conklin, let alone Osgood.
For more of Mike’s articles on the Detroit Red Wings please visit his examiner.com page at: Detroit Red Wings Examiner