Is It Serious?
From Nick Parsons
The Wings are in a funk! The Wings are in a funk! Monday night Detroit ended its worst losing streak since Eric Lindros was drafted number one overall. The questions all those empty seats in Joe Louis Arena want answered is: is it serious?
Yes, it is serious. The Red Wings hidden weakness is now not so hidden. That weakness is goaltending. The odd thing is wobbly Detroit goaltending is nothing new.
Detroit is a remarkable club. Their regular season success since 1987-88 has been astonishing: 13 divisional championships, five Presidents Trophies (best overall record), and three Stanley Cups. The past five seasons their points have varied between 109 and 124, theyve won the division those five years, finished first overall three times, and have one Cup.
Setting aside their uneven playoff performances Detroit during the regular season is the closest thing to invincible weve seen since those stunning Montreal Canadiens teams in the mid-70s.
Now they lose six straight games and were surprised. Who else but Detroit could lose six straight and remain eight points clear of the second best team - the Dallas Stars. Detroit is still odds on to finish first overall, especially with the NHLs three point games. Even so the skid was serious. Prior to this run the Wings won eight straight. In the last six of those wins, using six as it fits nicely with the losing streak, Detroits power play was 2 for 23. In the losses it was 5 for 27. Penalty killing during the wins was 17/19 and 18/23 for the losses. So special teams werent a problem. Scoring declined, from 16 goals for the winning streak to 10, with one shutout, during the losing streak. Not good. But it seems to me the greatest fall off was in goal. During the wins they averaged 130 shots per game against and for the losses 146. Again not critical. But the goaltending decline was steep - Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek had a combined save percentage of .969 during the six wins and .856 for the losses. Detroit has this odd inclination to try welding poor goaltenders onto the back end of great teams. The result is strong regular seasons followed by peculiar playoff results. The Wings roar through the regular season then nervously hope their goaltenders wont blow apart around the middle of May.
The recipe sometimes works: They won a Stanley Cup with erratic Mike Vernon then another with equally erratic Chris Osgood the next season. Their most recent Cup was with a shaky Dominik Hasek. They failed with Curtis Joseph then failed again with Manny Legace. Last year was Haseks turn again and he was good until the Conference final when he shipped too many goals. The Wings are a great club. They have to be the most pleasing team to watch in the league and have been for years. They play puck possession, are positionally sound, skate well off the puck, shoot from everywhere, and score. Whats not to like, other than the fact they win on the road which annoys the home crowd.
But it seems this season they are in the same old goaltending boat yet again. Through this current slide the Red Wings have been poor in their own end - scoring chances have ballooned. When their beleaguered defense could have used a helping hand the goalkeepers didnt deliver. Against Dallas Sunday night they were back to their old air tight selves. The team looks ready to begin winning once again. But their traditional weakness in goal remains. This team has to be superb in order to win and for the past 10 or 12 days it hasnt been that great. Yet another Presidents Trophy awaits them. However the suspicion lingers that with their indifferent goaltending so does another playoff disappointment.