Lightning Strikes Ailing Wings; Lightning: 3 – Wings: 0


Dec 15, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) receives congratulations from right wing Nikita Kucherov (56) and defenseman Andrej Sustr (62) after the game against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Tampa Bay won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday evening, the Detroit Red Wings dropped their fifth in a row and fell to 5-8-6 on home ice courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who rode goalie Ben Bishop’s shutout to win 3-0.

Is it time to panic yet?

There are so many facts that point to a ‘yes’ here. The secondary scoring that rose up to the occasion when Datsyuk got injured seems to have dissipated, the team can’t seem to find consistent goaltending (although Mrazek played great and made a few key saves despite the loss) and the special teams problems that have all but decimated this team over the past two seasons have returned. With this loss, Detroit fell out of a lock for a playoff spot and into the dreaded wild card area, and the team directly ahead of them is one that has handled them easily over the past few games. Things are starting to look grim in Hockeytown.

Our defensive play minus Dekeyser and Zetterberg is starting to show weaknesses, highlighted by Tyler Johnson’s goal to take the lead a few minutes into the third period. A bad turnover by Tomas Tatar allowed the Ondrej Palat to scoop up the puck, and sent the puck to the slot where Johnson tapped the easy one-timer home. Johnson was clearly Kronwall’s man, who allowed him to drift up into the high slot uncovered by anyone. Tomas Tatar tried to take the center’s position and cover for Kronwall, but did nothing to get into the lane of the pass or check Johnson off the reception. JT Brown capitalized off the weak defense only six minutes later, off a one-timer while he was alone and uncovered in the slot. Neither Kronwall nor Ericsson were in front of the net where they needed to be, and Datsyuk’s last minute backcheck was ALMOST enough to knock Brown off the past. Almost.

And that was it, barring an empty net from Purcell as the game was ending. Two little defensive mistakes just knocked Detroit out of a divisional playoff spot. Those two little mistakes could have been forgivable if the team was able to muster up ANY quality offense. Sure, they led in the shot department, and Bishop did make some nice saves, but Detroit was still under 30 shots, and most of them weren’t from quality areas. Newcomer Tomas Jurco probably had the best chance of the night. I get that he’s good, but the player in their first NHL game shouldn’t be the offensive star on a team with godly-talented veterans. Teams like that lose games…case in point.

But honestly – and maybe I just like the team too much – I think things are going to get better. Dekeyser should return shortly and resolidify himself as the stay-at-home backbone of the blue line, and Zetterberg will also be back in a couple of weeks. The amount of difference the captain makes on the ice has only become more obvious since his absence, and the team should get a much needed spark from his return. The days of useless veterans should be over by next season at the latest (although if Holland could move Cleary, Samuelsson and Co. by the trade deadline, that would be great) and the youth in the Red Wings’ system has been tearing it up as of late. Jurco got to show his skills off on the big ice today, and he impressed, even on an ailing offensive squad. Rookies Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist are quickly becoming mainstays on the roster, as is defensive specialist Joakim Andersson. Back in the AHL, blueliners Adam Almqvist, Ryan Sproul, and Xavier Ouellet are making strong arguments that they’re too good for the minors. Even further back into juniors, Anthony Mantha is having a record breaking season and scoring far more than 2 points per game, and Tyler Bertuzzi and Andreas Athanasiou are proving to be complete, solid players in their own right.

To summarize: This skid is not likely to break the season, and even if it does, the changing of the guard next year and into the next few will be more than enough to keep this team afloat. Nyquist, Jurco, and Mantha will come into their own while Datsyuk and Zetterberg decline, much how those two did during Yzerman and Shanahan’s final years. Our core is too good to miss the playoffs, even through the transition, and any personal moves Holland makes will only make the team better, not worse.

Just hold tight, Wings fans. We’ll be back to glory soon.