Red Wings Losing Goaltending Battle, Failing To Score

Detroit Red Wings, meet Pekka Rinne. Pekka Rinne, meet your Conn Smythe.

41 shots were  fired on the Nashville Predators’ netminder Tuesday night. 40 of them were turned away, and the 1 that did manage to find its way to the back of the net exited so quickly it was reviewed. The Finnish Wall has been unbeatable, and while he’s had plenty of help, the Predators are winning the goaltending category by a landslide.

The statistics don’t tell the full story, but they offer a nice summary of it. Rinne’s .942 Sv% is looming smugly at the .879 number that the Wings’ Howard possesses. It’s probably snickering with arrogance as well after the way Howard played in game 4. You could almost hear the cackling on the other side of the state after Nashville’s 2nd goal was scored.

Clearly the play featured a massive breakdown from the Red Wings’ skaters. Nicklas Lidstrom (the only player who should have been chasing the puck carrier) was emphatically joined on his defensive pursuit by his partner for the game, Ian White, and forward Jiri Hudler; Both of whom apparently didn’t believe the future hall-of-famer was capable of defending Martin Erat on his own. Meanwhile, Valtteri Filppula lazily slide his way into the zone not bothering to attempt a backcheck until it was far too late. But disregarding those pig-headed plays and focusing in on Howard’s positioning tells the story. He overplays Erat by a mile, and is then left watching as the puck is fired into the wide open net he’s tasked with covering. He fails to bail his team out. That’s something Rinne has done consistently for his team. Coach Mike Babcock has noticed as well.

When asked about Klein’s goal he responded:

“You win together and lose together. We made a mistake on it… Now, there’s a whole bunch of mistakes on the other side, but they’re nullified, you don’t even know who made them, because the goalie put his pad down.”

If that’s not a subtle dig at the play of his goaltender, I don’t know what is. It’s deserved. Nashville’s 2nd goal wasn’t Howard’s only gaffe of the night. Under 2 minutes into the 3rd Predators’ forward David Legwand threw a bad angle shot on net, and somehow it bobbled in. Howard got lucky on that one, as the goal was called back (I feel unjustly).

Bailed out by poor officiating or not, Howard bobbled the puck. He did it again in an almost repeat performance later in the period. Legwand again find the puck and fires it upon Howard before he realizes what’s happening, and this time it wasn’t called back.

Again, these plays aren’t solely Howard’s fault by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes your goalie needs to bail you out. That’s a task Howard hasn’t met yet this series. He’s played decently, but not great. He’s losing the battle with Rinne, and it’s costing his team. But the only reason his mistakes and the mistakes of his defense are proving so costly is that team in front of him isn’t scoring.

Just once in this series they’ve scored 3 goals. It’s no coincidence that it was their 1 victory. Rinne’s play is a large factor in that, but like I said previously, he’s getting plenty of help. Not only is that help coming from his own teammates who are continuously sweeping away loose pucks and winning battles in front of the net, but also the very team he faces.

Where is the Johan Franzen of playoff years past? The Mule has seemingly failed to realize it’s April and appears stuck in his lazy useless regular season mode. That switch flicked on twice near the end of the season in games against the Blues and Blackhawks, but where is the “clutch” playoff performer now? Even his teammates expected a breakout after 3 games and just 1 goal, a goal which he did nothing to contribute to but happen to be standing in the right spot.

“He’s been angry the last few games, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes out and scores two, three goals tonight.”

That was Henrik Zetterberg’s opinion on Franzen prior to the game. I would expect those thoughts to be more along the lines of, “Where the h*** are you, Mule?” now.

Franzen’s not alone in being absent from the series though. Breakout star Valtteri Filppula has failed to impress anyone doing his best Franzen imitation at most times. His 1 point over 4 games is largely due to that fact that he’s been invisible. Perhaps he can’t handle the physical pressure from Nashville, or maybe he’s just lost all of his confidence once again. At any rate, it’s plaguing a team relying on his production.

Linemate Jiri Hudler hasn’t been much better. Through the first 3 games of the series he was equally as invisible and ineffective. He’s getting out muscled and out skated. It almost looks as if he’s given up. There were glimpses of the 25 goal-scorer during game 4, but nothing consistent.

Consistency is something the Red Wings are getting from no one but Henrik Zetterberg at this point. Even Pavel Datsyuk has only shown up for part of each game. Zetterberg has averaged 23:24 in ice time in the playoffs compared to 19:50 during the regular season. They’ve tried to ride his efforts to success, but even he can’t carry the team when the too bafoons on his wings (Filppula & Hudler) aren’t contributing.

Mike Babcock at least appears to be partially aware. Game 4 saw a slight line shake up moving Dan Cleary to a line with Datsyuk and Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi down to the 3rd line. Following game 4, there needs to be more of a shake up. Something needs to be generated.

How about moving the rookie Nyquist up to a line with Datsyuk and Franzen? If that’s not successful enough, throw Zetterberg up there too! It’s possibly the last game of your season on Friday, why not try something outlandish like a line that looked sensational the brief glimpse you gave it during the regular season?

The bottom line is that something has to change. Either Jimmy Howard must be able to bail his team out when they make 2 or 3 significant mistakes, or the players in front of him must score enough to make the lack of that occurring a blip on the radar.

From their quotes following the game, it’s clear that the Red Wings are frustrated, and they should be. Now the question is how they answer those frustrations. Will they come out Friday evening and continue fighting the battle they began on Tuesday night, or will they roll over and die at the hands of one yellow-armored masked warrior that continually blocks their path. Mike Babcock’s comments sum the hoped-for answer to that question up well.

“You can’t keep playing like this, having the puck all the time, and the other team beating you. I wouldn’t think anyway.”