After nine games, the Detroit Red Wings still have not found steady footing for the season. The ugly truth for Red Wings fans is that the team might just be mediocre.
They have given up five more goals than they have scored this season. While the 6-0 loss to open the season explains that, it still means that they are only plus-one over their other eight games. They have solid wins against Minnesota and St Louis but bad losses to Calgary and Columbus.
The next 10 games are critical to the success of the season. They will play home games against Edmonton, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Anaheim, Columbus, Nashville and Vancouver. Their only road games will be St. Louis, Minnesota and Nashville.
Eight of these games are with teams within three points of them in the playoff chase. Naturally, after nine games, teams will still be bunched up, but it is not common for Detroit to be toward the back of the pack. They currently sit 11th in the Western Conference.
Each win that they get over this span is of course points for them, but it also will keep their opponents from getting points, which can be a huge swing. With a strong run in these games, the Red Wings could push toward the front of the pack.
They play seven games at home, which, historically, is a strong point for them. Only St. Louis and Anaheim are among the better teams in the West. This means that most of these games should be very winnable for the Wings.
While a solid stretch of winning will help the team, a bad or even mediocre stretch will hurt. If they continue to play .500 hockey, then it will keep them muddled in the pack of teams fighting for the last couple of playoff spots.
If they come through these 10 games with a losing record, then the much-vaunted playoff streak will be in serious jeopardy. With a short season, these 10 games will already put them near the halfway mark of the season. Too many losses will put them in a hole that they may not be able to dig their way out of.
In order to have a successful 10 games, several players will need to improve.
Dan Cleary and Cory Emmerton have been nonexistent so far this season, Valtteri Filppula and Todd Bertuzzi have really only had one very good game and Jimmy Howard has been average at best in too many games.
Jordin Tootoo was not expected to be a big point player, but ideally, through nine games, he should have contributed more than just a few fights. So far he has no points but leads the team in penalty minutes with 30. With the issues this team has had on the penalty kill, he has been more of a liability than an asset so far.
Injuries are another issue that has hit the team. While it hurts to not have many of these players in the lineup, it does give an opportunity to others. Of course, not every player is going to step in and shine, but ideally, a few will.
Outside of Brain Lashoff, nobody else has stepped up. Patrick Eaves only has one assist in six games. While Kent Huskins has been solid on defense, the team needs someone to start setting up scoring plays. Like Cleary, he too has zero points so far this season.
Now is the time for the team to shake off the early-season funk that they've been in. These next 10 games will go a long way in determining the fate of this team. It may be time for head coach Mike Babcock to bench unproductive players and allow Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar a chance to prove their worth.
PJ Sapienza is a Featured Columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings, as well as many other sports. You can follow him on Twitter.