Detroit Red Wings Lose 7th Straight: Simply Troubling or Crisis-Level Problem?

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistNovember 21, 2013

October 4, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock looks on against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Center. The Red Wings won 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Red Wings are in the middle of their worst slump in years. How concerning should that be for fans and management?

On November 2, the Red Wings crushed the Edmonton Oilers by a 5-0 score that may even understate the level of dominance Detroit displayed in that game. They looked like the Red Wings that have terrorized the league for the last two decades with their ability to dominate the pace of the game.

Since that contest, Detroit has played seven games. It has lost every one of those outings.

Seven straight losses is certainly troubling, but there are some mitigating factors in this case.

To begin with, in five of the seven games, Detroit has picked up a point. Not only is that important from a standings perspective, but it says a lot about what kinds of losses the Red Wings have suffered.

Twice the team has lost in overtime, and three of the last four games were lost in the shootout. For the vast majority of NHL history, this would be a seven-game winless streak, not a seven-game losing streak.

Nov 16, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen (51) scores the game-winning goal against Detroit Red Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson (50) during an overtime shootout at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Pen
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The shootout doesn’t really say anything about team quality; it is essentially a coin flip. The last time the NHL had an 82-game season, the Red Wings were 9-3 in the shootout, but since then the club has gone 2-9.     

Two games were one-goal decisions decided in overtime, and two others were two-goal decisions decided in regulation.

The point is that this isn’t a situation where the Red Wings have been consistently outplayed for seven straight games. Two close contests and five regulation ties have all gone against Detroit; it’s a case of the Red Wings playing other teams closely and falling just barely short.

That, in a nutshell, is why this seven-game run is a problem but not a crisis. Detroit simply isn’t as bad as “seven straight losses” would suggest, but it isn’t the team it once was, either. The Red Wings that were so dominant for so many years show up occasionally, but far more often, Detroit hangs around the break-even line.

We can see that when we look at Detroit’s shot metrics.

The chart below shows Detroit’s close-game Fenwick rating (in other words, what percentage of five-on-five shots and missed shots were taken by the Red Wings in situations where the game was still in doubt) since the team won the Stanley Cup in 2008. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture:

Jonathan Willis

The Cup-winning Red Wings were a truly dominant team, outshooting their opponents by a rate of nearly 3-to-2 in the regular season; that’s basically as good as it gets in the time since this information has been tracked.

They were almost as good in 2008-09 (the year they lost to Pittsburgh) but dropped steeply thereafter. In the years since 2009, Detroit has been a good but not great NHL team, and its playoff results (three series wins in four years) reflect that.    

This is the first year that Detroit has looked average, though. The Red Wings aren’t great and they aren’t good; instead, they’re struggling to stay at the head of the middle of the pack.

That’s why this losing streak is a red flag. There are lots of middling teams that can lose seven straight with a bit of bad puck luck. Detroit is now one of them.