The Detroit Red Wings are on the right side of the playoff picture—for the moment anyway. The Red Wings went down hard at home on Sunday to the St. Louis Blues by a final score of 1-0. The Red Wings are still in the playoff race, as they control their destiny with nine games remaining.
While nobody can write off a team until it is either eliminated from playoff contention or eliminated in the playoffs, the Red Wings do have some glaring weaknesses that will make it difficult if not impossible to make a deep playoff run this year (assuming they do get in the playoffs, which is still a big assumption at this point).
Here are the five biggest weaknesses that could stop the Red Wings from making a deep run in the playoffs.
NHL.com counts "giveaways" rather than turnovers, so excuse the difference in terminology on this slide.
A turnover should be a lot more obvious than a giveaway. This is because a turnover sets up a scoring chance.
In Sunday's game against the Blues—and really in most Red Wings games this season—there have been a substantial amount of not just giveaways, but turnovers leading to scoring chances.
Jimmy Howard has had to be fantastic this year, despite not having the usual numbers to back his play up. He has had to face the eighth-most shots out of any goalie in the NHL, while making the seventh-most saves.
Despite allowing 28.6 shots per game (13th-best in the NHL), the Red Wings have had monstrous breakdowns in front of Jimmy Howard and quite a few of them have ended up in the back of the Red Wings' net.
Detroit must cut down on the turnovers in its own end if it is to have any chance of a) making the playoffs and b) going on a deep run in the playoffs.
Pavel Datsyuk, Justin Abelkader and Johan Franzen have been playing on the same line (with minor substitutions for Franzen) since Franzen returned from injury.
The obvious question is, "Why?"
Abdelkader has been playing with Datsyuk for almost two months (dating back to mid-February). His success has been, for lack of a better word, limited. Abdelkader had one game where he put up a hat trick and an assist while playing with Datsyuk.
Outside of those four points against Anaheim, Abdelkader has points in just three out of 23 games since February 17th.
Datsyuk badly needs a new linemate. Franzen can do wonders with Datsyuk, but not when Abdelkader is placed out there with them.
Abdelkader is not a top-six forward, nor will he ever be.
The Detroit Red Wings have Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula in their top-six group of forwards.
So what does it mean when the Red Wings don't have an established top-six group of forwards? Well, speaking plainly, the Red Wings' lines are constantly being changed, altered and reconstructed. All four of the players named above have played on different lines, with different linemates and been in the lineup for different amounts of time this season.
There is no chemistry within these lines at all. Talent will make talent better, but the constant changes to the "top line" in Detroit have taken their toll offensively this season.
Head coach Mike Babcock needs to leave his lineup as is for the remaining portion of the regular season to finally get his lines to gel (after he replaces Abdelkader that is).
Detroit's defense is a shadow of what it once was. But teams with more porous defenses have won Stanley Cups, right?
Well, the simple fact of the matter is that one cannot jam a square peg into a round hole on multiple occasions in the same season and have it work successfully when it comes to hockey.
The Red Wings defense is just an eyesore to watch a lot of the time. There are no real clear-cut breakout passes from the Red Wings' defensemen to the forward group. This has led to severe problems as far as offense is concerned.
Out of the 39 games played so far, the Red Wings have either not registered a goal or potted just one.
The defense's inability to make good breakout passes (that don't result in turnovers and goals for the other team) has resulted in Detroit's offensive forwards being stagnated in what they can do on the scoreboard.
Banking on special teams to bail out a team isn't something that any coach wants to have to do. The Red Wings simply cannot convert on the power play or kill penalties when they need to.
The Red Wings' overall power play sits at 14th in the NHL (18.1 percent), while the penalty kill sits at 22nd in the league (80.0 percent).
Although the Red Wings have gotten better in both areas in terms of percentage, games like Sunday's against the St. Louis Blues (where the Red Wings lost 1-0 while going 0-3 on the power play) show the nature of Detroit's true struggles with special teams.
If this trouble converting in key situations continues, the Red Wings will either be out in the first round of the playoffs or miss them all together.
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