The Detroit Red Wings have played less than stellar hockey for the past five games. Before Sunday’s win against Pittsburgh, they had allowed five or more goals in three of those five games, including a 7-2 drubbing by the Philadelphia Flyers, a team that currently is not in the playoff race.
It was one of the worst stretches the Red Wings have had this season, and with Boston just three points behind Detroit as of Sunday morning, the Red Wings felt the urgency to get back to their winning ways. Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg felt the need to address the issue.
Zetterberg Calls Out His Team
After the loss to the Flyers on Saturday, Zetterberg — not one to put the onus on his teammates — did just that, telling MLive.com’s Ansar Khan:
“I think it’s almost that we’re hiding out there. We’re all afraid. We don’t want the puck. If you have it you’d rather give it to someone else. And then all of a sudden we start playing. So we know that we can play. Somehow we want to wait 20 minutes before we get going. Where we are right now we can’t do that.”
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall echoed his captain’s statements saying:
“It’s a little bit too much standing around, not really wanting the puck. We’ve got to get back to work here. That’s the bottom line.”
“Nothing is good enough right now. We’ve got to find a way to get back to what we are about. You go through times like this you really find out who you are as a team and it’s about time we start winning again.”
In a sports world where we rarely see teammates call each other out and everyone puts the blame on themselves, it’s good to see the captain step up and say what needed to be said: The Red Wings simply were not playing well enough, and it wasn’t just Zetterberg’s fault, Jimmy Howard’s fault or coach Mike Babcock’s fault.
Team Responds Against Pittsburgh
Zetterberg alluded to his teammates passing too much rather than taking the shot, and it’s a problem that has plagued this team for the past few years. It’s a combination of having a lot of playmakers in Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk — players who look to pass first and shoot second — and having a lot of young guys like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan, who are still gaining confidence to take that shot rather than dish it off to a teammate.
Gustav Nyquist, at some point you have to decide to shoot again.
— George Malik (@georgemalik) March 15, 2015
Teemu Pulkkinen generally is the only player who doesn’t pass up the opportunity to take a shot, and the rest of the team needs to follow his lead. In a 5-1 win against the Penguins on Sunday, the Red Wings responded to Zetterberg’s comments in a positive way.
Early in the first period, Marek Zidlicky, one of the Red Wings’ lone bright spots during this five-game stretch, took a harmless-looking slap shot from the point that was deflected by Riley Sheahan and found its way past Marc-Andre Fleury.
It’s simple plays like this that the Red Wings have been passing up on, opting to go for the perfect shot rather than just a shot on goal. However, when you’re struggling to score and struggling to get the bounces, you just need to throw pucks on the net and create havoc for the goalie.
Right before the Sheahan goal, you can see Brendan Smith throw the puck on the net just to create a scoring chance. It was blocked and bounced to Zidlicky’s stick, but it was an attempt to make Fleury make the save rather than passing the puck, which doesn’t lead to a scoring chance.
Teemu Pulkkinen’s second goal was the definition of good things happen when you shoot. Pulkkinen’s stick broke as he took one of his booming slap shots. However, the puck ricocheted off of a Penguins defenseman and behind Thomas Greiss to put the Red Wings up 5-0.
The team, as a whole, did a much better job Sunday of getting the puck on net and making Fleury work. Even though they had at least 30 shots on goal in four out of the past five games before Sunday’s game, they could have had even more for the number of times they opted to pass the puck rather than shoot.
Zetterberg had this to say after Sunday’s win against Pittsburgh.
“After last game we had a player only meeting. We said enough is enough and we got to go out and play, we have to enjoy playing.” – Z
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) March 15, 2015
The Red Wings needed a big loss sooner rather than later. It was a wakeup call that they can’t coast to a playoff berth. Boston is playing its best hockey right now, and the Red Wings needed to respond, or they could find themselves in a wild-card spot.
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Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.