The Red Wings may have won 21 games in a row in Detroit, but it's their performance on the road that will likely determine their fate in the 2012 playoffs.
With a 24-2-1 record in the comfortable confines of Joe Louis Arena, the Wings are nearly unbeatable at home. But this won't last all season. Eventually they are going to fall off their incredible pace.
When that time comes, this streak won't matter in the minds of the players, coaches or fans. The excitement everyone is feeling right now will fizzle, and it will pale in significance to playoff competition.
If they fail to win the Stanley Cup this year, no regular season record will ease the pain. Nothing can, after all, as championships are all that really matter in the end. The people of Michigan know that as well as anyone.
Despite having more points than any team in the league right now, the Red Wings are a mediocre club on the road. They've lost 16 of 31 away games; a rate that, if continued, will make winning it all extremely difficult—even with such a strong roster.
Their flaws have been overshadowed by their remarkable streak, but all the positive attention they've received in the past few days is keeping everyone's minds distracted from a very crucial problem.
No team has won the Stanley Cup with a losing record on the road since the New Jersey Devils pulled it off in the shortened 1994-95 season. This is no coincidence, and Detroit will need to be able to improve their play away from home to win four best-of-seven series against the league's best teams.
And at this point, given what we've seen so far in '11-'12, they can't be counted on to do that.
One could make the case that Detroit was unable to win it all last year because of this same deficiency: They won four of five playoff games at home but just three of seven on the road.
What this tells us is that if they don't correct their glaring problem, they will have to be nearly perfect at Joe Louis Arena in the postseason to go all the way this spring. That will be a daunting task.
The Wings' disparity of success between their home and road games prevents them from being considered the Stanley Cup favorite—at least for now, especially when you look at the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks, all of whom have been consistently elite, regardless of where they play.
That isn't to say that Detroit cannot become Cup front-runners in the near future. They just need to prove their accomplishments aren't circumstantial.
More importantly than continuing their streak, they need to focus on their performance in hostile environments. Otherwise, this impressive season will likely be for naught.
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