Red Wings fans remain optimistic after a long losing streak left Detroit 5th in the East. This is mostly due to overtime losses, and also due to the rest of the conference having an inability to string together enough wins to leapfrog the Wings in the standings. After Detroit beat up on a couple of weaker teams just when we were starting to forget that a game can end with the Wings getting two points, some think the Wings are starting to turn the corner. I wanted to take the time to remind everyone that the worst is yet to come for the Winged Wheel.
To understand why, we first examine the overtime losing streak that we want to forget so badly. Dallas, Tampa, Winnipeg, Washington and the Islanders. Outside of the Lightning, none of those teams are exactly lighting up the league. In fact, they aren’t doing particularly well. What does it say when Detroit is struggling like that against mediocre teams? I’m not saying that we’d expect Detroit to go undefeated during that stretch, but staying about .500 isn’t asking much. Winning ONE game isn’t asking much. This was followed up by getting shut out by a weak team, Nashville. With an AHL goalie no less.
Thankfully Jonas Gustavsson came in to bring in some respectability and defeating Carolina by the impressive margin of one goal. Howard returned for another embarrassment against Ottawa, and Gustavsson followed up by defeating Buffalo, presumably while half asleep or pulling a Kari Leghtonen and sitting on the net. Detroit didn’t look particularly good against Carolina and Buffalo, but didn’t look bad enough to lose.
So where does this leave us? The polar opposite of the Frank Sinatra song.
Detroit has struggled against mediocre teams and Howard doesn’t remember how to win. This isn’t to say that Howard is on an exclusive list; the entire team in front of him is play poorly. Howard hasn’t done himself too many favors either though. Considering this, looking at the schedule ahead makes me throw up in my mouth a little. Detroit will get a taste of it tonight against Boston. Sure, Detroit beat Boston once already this year. They also beat Columbus once last year, after playing them FIVE TIMES. Things don’t get easier for December though, as Detroit squares off against Tampa twice, broken up by Pittsburgh and capped with a visit by Anaheim. This is going to be a rough week. If Detroit needs all their heart and soul to beat Carolina by one, they are going to get annihilated by teams that are actually good.
Injuries certainly aren’t helping anything. Detroit’s defense hasn’t been anything to write home about since Lidstrom left and Dan DeKeyser’s injury makes that even worse. Datsyuk getting hurt with that elbow that somehow wasn’t a suspension is an even greater hinderance. This team has struggled with depth scoring lately, with Zetterberg and Datsyuk shouldering most of the load and Alfredsson occasionally contributing as well. Outside of those three, Detroit hasn’t had much contribution by comparison. Removing one of those three essentially puts the Wings in a position where they’re fighting with their right hand tied behind their back. Tatar has his moments but despite popular opinion I doubt that he and Nyquist will single-handedly turn a team around in a week’s time. But enough references to not having a hand.
Does this mean the 22-season streak comes to an end this year? It’s far too early to tell. While Nyquist and Tatar can’t turn this thing around in a week, who knows what they’ll be like after a month. The team will get healthy eventually and Howard is too good to continue playing like this. This is to say nothing of the fact that Detroit also ends up playing Florida twice, Philadelphia and New Jersey before things get tough in December, so there’s room for hope. Just not too much room, and not too soon.
November will mercifully come to an end this weekend. But Red Wings fans best strap themselves in, because December looks like it could be pretty rough too.