By Dave Waddell –
Finally the Detroit Red Wings’ goaltenders can’t paper over the cracks in the team’s play any longer.
The netminding combo of Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson have consistently provided good to superb goaltending, but what they’ve seen in front of them has been, more often than not, substandard.
A four-game winning streak, with three of those victories seeing Gustavsson as Detroit’s best player, was able to provide cover for a while. However, that has been followed by a four-game losing streak in which Detroit was been decent in one and poor to terrible in the three other contests.
“We have to find our way to play our team so we have success on a nightly basis,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
“As much as we got off to a pretty good start I think we’re a team in flux, trying to find out who we are and how we’re going to play to be successful. That’s still a work in progress.”
Not much progress has been made of late.
The Wings have prided themselves on being a puck-possession team that keeps the shots against down by their refusal to give up the biscuit easily.
After outshooting their opposition in the first two games of the season, Detroit has only managed to do that once in the past 10 games.
The Wings have also surrendered third-period leads in two of the last four games. It won’t get any easier with Detroit departing Oct. 30 for a four-game Western Canadian road trip.
Pavel Datsyuk, the master of slick and often subtle brilliance, opted to go for the blunt blow of a two-by-four between the eyes with his tweet following the Oct. 26 loss to the visiting New York Rangers.
“We have some work to do,” Datsyuk said.
“Appreciate you all sticking by us! We will practice and play harder to restore your confidence and support.”
If anyone deserves a pass in this disappointing stretch for Detroit, it’s Datsyuk and his sometimes winger Henrik Zetterberg. The two are tied for the team-scoring lead with 12 points and they, along with Todd Bertuzzi, are the only players with three or more goals.
Stats don’t always tell the full story – though they go a good way to do so here – but there are more troubling signs on display.
Detroit has generally played inconsistent, passionless and frankly not very intelligent hockey for the most part this month. There’s been no tempo in the Wings’ game, but there have been a litany of errors on the most basic concepts of the game.
Bad pinches by defensemen, poor first passes out of their zone, no speed through the neutral zone, too many turnovers in every area of the ice and tendency to get too cute with goals evaporating faster than the patience of the Wings’ faithful.
It all adds up to a team that’s mentally unfocused and unsure of who it is at this stage.
Perhaps no players typify these problems, though they’re hardly alone in this issue, than newcomers Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson.
In Alfredsson’s case, his 10-point production through 12 games has been more impressive than his play at times.
He still looks a player adjusting to his new surroundings, unsure especially in his own end.
“I think it’s been so-so,” Alfredsson conceded of his play this season. “I can’t say I’m really happy.
“Some games have been good, some games haven’t been good. I definitely feel my game is pretty good right now and I feel confident and stronger on the puck than I did earlier in the season.’’
In fairness, the veteran winger has been steadily improving to sit third in team scoring. The same can’t be said for Weiss.
The former Florida Panther center has two goals and is minus-5. He looks lost too often and has even found duty centering the third line while Babcock has toyed with using another early underachiever, Johan Franzen, at the pivot position.
“You want to be the best player on the ice every night and all those things,” Weiss said. “Sometimes when it doesn’t happen, you tighten up a little bit. Even though you’re not trying to, you’re telling yourself all the right things and try not to think too much, but when you get out there sometimes that’s all out the window.
“Sometimes it’s tough battling yourself trying to get out of your own way.”
To his credit, Weiss refuses to grasp for excuses. It would be easy to say missing most of training camp with an injury and adjusting to a new team are the sources of his problems.
“This falls on me,” Weiss said.
“You have to realize you’re a good hockey player and you’re here for a reason. Just get the heck out of your own way that’s the key.”
What also needs to happen is general manager Ken Holland clearing out some bodies up front.
The Wings badly miss the energy a healthy Darren Helm and Gustav Nyquist would bring.
Helm should be back in a matter of days, but Nyquist is trapped in Grand Rapids by salary cap issues until Holland can sort his way out of this financial maze.
Instead of calling up Nyquist, the team has opted for Grand Rapids native Luke Glendening on two occasions (today being the most recent). Yet Glendening doesn’t pack the offensive punch that Nyquist does, as he is viewed as more of a defensive-minded center.
If the Wings continue to struggle to score goals as they have, four in the last four games, the Wings are going to have seriously consider eating some salary to gain enough space to finally ice their best team and not the one out there due to financial constraints.