As expectations go, those surrounding the Detroit Red Wings' 2013-14 season were decidedly high.
Pundits everywhere—from ESPN to The Hockey News to hack bloggers—dazzled by the acquisition of Daniel Alfredsson expected the Wings to be one of the best teams in the league, if not Stanley Cup contenders.
A stronger-than-expected close to the 2012-13 season along with a surprisingly solid playoff showing that saw the Red Wings take the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to seven games in the second round positioned the Wings as a team on the rise.
The additions of Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss over the summer made Detroit, on paper, one of the more elite teams in the NHL.
Finally, Detroit’s move to the Eastern Conference greatly improved its travel schedule, lessening the physical and mental wear and tear on its players and leaving them ostensibly fresher on a nightly basis.
The Detroit Red Wings were being penciled in to a top-three finish in the Atlantic Division before the puck even dropped on the season. Twelve games in, one wonders if they’ll have the ability to make the playoffs at all.
The Red Wings are essentially a mess right now, and one need look no further than their last outing against the New York Rangers for a stunning example of this reality.
The Rangers, off to a miserable 2-6 start, came to the Joe Louis Arena Saturday night banged up and weary from a marathon eight-game road trip to start the season.
Without their top winger in Rick Nash (concussion), their captain Ryan Callahan (broken thumb) and their perennial All-Star and Vezina-contending goalie Henrik Lundqvist in net (undisclosed), the Rangers should have been easy prey for a relatively healthy and offensively starved Red Wings team.
After all, the Wings had just come off their worst loss of the season, losing 6-1 at the hands of the Ottawa Senators at home, and instead of Lundqvist, they were facing some guy name “Cam Talbot” in net who was coming into Detroit with a single NHL game under his belt.
The Rangers should have been quick work for a Red Wings team stacked with offensive potential and motivated to redeem itself from the loss to Ottawa.
Instead, the Rangers outshot the Red Wings 40-34 and looked to be the superior team for most of the game.
On paper, there’s just no way this should have been possible.
However, the Red Wings, despite all the preseason hoopla, look far better on paper these days than they do on the ice.
Coach Mike Babcock has said it as well as anybody, via MLive.com's Ansar Khan, “We don’t have what you call an identity or whatever you want to call it.”
This point is made even clearer when compared against the identity (or whatever you want to call it) the Red Wings have had for the better part of 20 years.
For years, if one were referencing “Red Wings hockey,” they were essentially saying “puck-possession hockey.”
The Red Wings teams of old won games and Stanley Cups because they always had the puck more than their opposition.
The 2013-14 Red Wings control the puck about as well as a fat guy in a donut shop with a fistful of cash can control his appetite.
The Red Wings' shot differential tells this story best.
Detroit ranks 15th in the league in shots for, averaging 30.7 per game; that’s about 10 shots a period for those of you keeping score at home.
However, Detroit is in the top 10 in shots against per game, but in this case, this is a dubious distinction.
Only eight other teams in the league face more shots on average than the Red Wings do at 32.4 per game.
Looking at these numbers, there’s no denying that Detroit is anything but a puck-possession team.
So who are these Red Wings?
They’re certainly not the team so many thought they’d be at the beginning of the season, and they’re certainly not the team they’ve been for so many years before that.
Perhaps the most positive thing that can be said about them at this point is that the Red Wings are a team in transition—but a transition to what?
The season is young, and in the end, the Red Wings may very well shake out into something like the powerhouse they were expected to be this year.
However, as of now, they’re showing that those expectations were apparently way too high.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @mahutter12.