The NHL’s regular season fires back up tonight. With anywhere from 19 to 22 games to go, many teams have the opportunity to play their way in, or out, of the postseason. The biggest team on that precipice is the Detroit Red Wings.
The Wings currently stand tied with Dallas for ninth in the Western Conference. With 21 games to play, they need a supreme effort from everyone on their roster, as well as a little help from some other teams in the conference, if they hope to make the playoffs.
There are, however, some significant obstacles in their way if they hope to get to the playoffs for the 19th consecutive year.
The biggest concern for the Wings lies in their schedule. They play 15 of their last 21 against teams either solidly in the playoffs or playing for their postseason lives.
Detroit has an 11-11-6 record against the teams remaining on the schedule. While that stat should have an asterisk next to it given the Wings’ injury woes all season, I doubt any of those teams are willing to grant a mulligan now that the Wings are close to being completely healthy.
The Wings play the three teams directly in front of them in the playoff hunt (Colorado once, Nashville three times, Calgary twice). This will offer Detroit an opportunity to gain ground on each of those teams, and should the Wings beat them in regulation, keep the opposition from picking up any points in the process.
The Wings are unlikely to catch Colorado. With the schedule the Avs have ahead of them, they will make the playoffs, most likely as the No. 4 seed.
Unless those trades start to work out in Calgary, the Flames will end up missing the playoffs. They had won only five of their previous 20 games. It’s hard to tell if things can actually turn around. It doesn’t help that both Dallas and Detroit have a game in hand on them.
Nashville, likewise, hadn’t been playing stellar hockey before the break, losing nine of 13. They do, however, have the kind of defense and goaltending to shut a team down and win the close games. With the favorable schedule they have left, along with the points lead and win total, they’ll sneak into the playoffs.
Another problem is that Detroit doesn’t play the team they’re currently tied with or the team nipping at their heels for the rest of the season.
Dallas, tied with the Wings with 68 points, was playing well before the Olympic break, winning four of their last six and earning nine of a possible 12 points. Detroit has no way to directly impact Dallas’ playoff run or keep them from earning any more points. All they can do is play well and hope that Dallas falters down the stretch.
Anaheim also played well before the break, winning six of their last eight. Acquiring Jason Blake just before the Olympics gives them two solid scoring lines and will help with the playoff push. The Ducks also have 12 games at home to finish the season. That, coupled with not having to run into Detroit anytime before the playoffs, means the Ducks are all but in.
Looking critically at the Wings’ schedule (and barring any blockbuster trades), I see them going 13-6-2 down the stretch. Given the way things have gone this season, that’s a fantastic run to end the year. That would give them 96 points and a decent shot at the playoffs.
However, with the way Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Jonas Hiller played for their respective teams in the Olympics, I see the Ducks going 15-4-1 in that same span. That would give the Ducks 98 points, beating the Wings out for the eighth and final playoff spot by two points.
I hate to say it Wings fans, but not even a clean bill of health can salvage this season. The consecutive playoff streak ends at 18.
But look on the bright side, at least there will be a decent draft pick come June 25.