Red Wings Face Uphill Battle

The Detroit Red Wings currently sit second-to-last in the Eastern Conference with a record of 20-20-9, but are just seven points out of the playoffs. There’s a great deal of pressure on the team to make the postseason, too. In addition to the 2016-17 season being the Wings’ last at Joe Louis Arena, the team is looking to make the playoffs for the 26th consecutive season.

The NHL’s March 1 trade deadline is looming, and general manager Ken Holland will have to determine whether the Red Wings are selling or standing pat this year, as he does not envision them as buying at the deadline. With the team’s bye week scheduled from Feb. 22-27, they will have just three weeks to make their final push for the playoffs, but it looks like an uphill battle.

Injury Woes

No, injuries do not completely excuse the poor play from the team this season, but they have certainly taken their toll on the Red Wings. According to Man-Games Lost, the team leads the league in man-games lost by a fair margin. The Wings have the most man-games lost with 340, while the Edmonton Oilers are next in line with 278.

Darren Helm has skated in just 21 games this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Just when it appears as if the team is returning to full health, it feels as if someone else goes down. Currently, Jimmy Howard, Brendan Smith, Dylan Larkin and Steve Ott are on the sidelines. In addition to the impact of any single player missing time this season, the sheer number of injuries has likely impeded the team’s ability to develop chemistry and consistency.

Goaltending Carousel

Speaking of Howard, despite posting strong numbers this season (1.96 GAA, .934 Sv%), the 32-year-old goaltender has played in just 17 games for the Red Wings. Part of that is due to the MCL sprain he sustained late in December, but the team has also spent a great deal of time trying to get Petr Mrazek back on track.

Petr Mrazek has struggled in goal for the Red Wings. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Instead of the 24-year-old solidifying his position as the Red Wings’ No. 1 goaltender, head coach Jeff Blashill had to turn to Jared Coreau. While neither goaltender has posted particularly strong numbers over the past month, Coreau has five wins in 10 games, while Mrazek has just one in eight. Chalk it up to a lack of goal support for Mrazek (after all, the team left Howard out to dry most of the season), but Blashill has continued to split games between the two goaltenders, despite Coreau’s ability to register wins.

Lack of Offense

That brings us to, perhaps, the Red Wings’ biggest issue this season – an embarrassing lack of offensive production. The team ranks 25th in goals for per game (2.39 GF/GP) this season, and while that’s improved over the past month (2.54 GF/GP), their power play remains a disaster. They currently sit in last place in the league with respect to the power play, converting on just 11.1% of their attempts, and were even worse during the month of January (8.1%).

Part of the reason the team has issues generating offense has to do with them getting out-shot for most of the season. The Wings are 25th in shots per game this season (28.7 Shots/GP), but 12th in shots against (30.5 SA/GP).

Thomas Vanek
Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There’s also the matter of Thomas Vanek being the Red Wings’ top offensive weapon this season, scoring at a pace of 0.84 P/GP. While his success with the team is a pleasant surprise, he’s likely priced himself out of Detroit in the process. While Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, Mike Green and Henrik Zetterberg are posting improved offensive totals, too many members of the Red Wings’ current “core” group are having down seasons. If the team is going to sneak into the playoffs this year, they need to get healthy, have a stable presence in goal and have all hands chipping in offensively.