Maybe it’s the injuries. Maybe it’s the complete inability to succeed in a shootout this year. Maybe realignment is just messing with the Wings’ mojo. Pick whatever excuse you like, the Wings haven’t put themselves in a great position at this point in the season.
Does it hurt to look at that? It hurts me to look at that.
Yes, if the playoffs started Wednesday Night, the Wings wouldn’t be included. A 22-season streak would finally come to an end. We’d be scrambling to explain to Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Kronwall, and other career Red Wings that the season can in fact be finished in April. Detroit goes into action against the Canadians tomorrow tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets (Are you kidding me?!? Tied with the Blue Jackets?!?!) and just barely ahead of the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators. If you were starting to panic at this point in the season, you wouldn’t be alone.
The fact that Detroit scored as many goals last night against Chicago than they had in the previous four games combined certainly has something to do with all of this. Detroit hadn’t just losing games at a time they can’t afford to lose, they’ve been shut out two games in a row. Offensive woes have been plaguing the team lately, as depth scoring has been almost impossible to come by despite quality call-ups from the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Injuries no doubt are playing a big part in the Wings’ struggles. Current injuries without much of a timetable for return include Pavel Datsyuk, Stephen Weiss (not that he’s particularly helpful when in the line up), Johan Franzen, and Daniel Alfredsson. Joakim Andersson has been day-to-day and will hopefully be ready to go sooner rather than later. Darren Helm only recently came back from injury, as did Jonathan Ericsson. No team can be expected to live up to expectations with that many bodies out of the line up. The standings don’t discriminate unfortunately. Two points is two points whether your team is healthy or not.
The sliver of hope is that when the Wings get healthy they can turn this around. When their best players are in the lineup, they’re almost certainly superior to teams like the Blue Jackets, Senators or Devils and would certainly give the Capitals and Leafs a run for their money. The only problem with this thinking, however, is that the Wings have been digging a hole that’s going to be difficult to get out of when their players return healthy, whenever that may be.
The issue with making up room in the standings is that it isn’t dependent on your team winning so much as it’s dependent on the teams ahead of you or tied with you losing. Saturday was a cause for celebration and miracles almost certainly took place. It’s difficult to tell which was the bigger miracle- the ridiculous, never should have counted on the planet Earth, Nicklas Kronwall ‘goal’ against the Kings or the fact that the Wings won in a shootout. Those two points were desperately needed and gave the Wings some much-needed breathing room. Then the rest of the NHL happened.
The Rangers, Senators, Blue Jackets, Maple Leafs, and Flyers all earned two points Saturday. Literally all of the teams the Wings could stand to gain some ground on, lost zero ground. This made Detroit’s once-in-a-lifetime miraculous win over the Kings prevent them from sinking further instead of climbing out of the playoff-less hole they’ve found themselves in. This can get particularly exhausting, as every win the Wings get from this point forward means nothing unless the teams in front of them lose as well.
The opposite happened last night, with the Wings beating Chicago in a shootout and the Flyers and Canadians losing. While it won’t catapult them into a playoff spot instantly, it does help make up some ground. With the Leafs five points ahead of the Wings, even with a few games in hand, the Leafs need to lose a few in a row at the same time the Wings win a few in a row in order to get that spot secured.
The Wings do have a few things going for them at this point. They’ve only played 49 games while a few of their opponents have played 50 or 51. In particular, the Leafs are five-points ahead of them and the Wings have two games in hand. While five points obviously can’t be made up in two games, it gives the Wings a chance to catch up. Provided, that’s only if they win. Detroit could lose two games in a row, and this buffer disappears. Going forward for the rest of the year, however, the Wings play those tougher western teams far less than the Leafs or Blue Jackets (Who they seem to be competing with for most cap space going to injuries as well). Their schedule could be considered easier for this home stretch than for others.
Going forward it’s certainly possible for this team to pull through and make the playoffs. This team has done incredible things before and this would be less impressive than some of the things this team has done, even in recent history. But if you think the playoffs are a given and it won’t take much work and a little luck for the Wings to pull this off, you’ve got another thing coming.