Detroit Red Wings' Johan Franzen Scoring Drought: Were Ya' Kicked By a Mule?!

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IFebruary 24, 2011

The past six games have arguably been the best stretch of hockey the Detroit Red Wings have played all season long.

They were on a five game win streak prior to Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks, but even in defeat, the Wings looked poised and collected.

The usual names like "Zetterberg" and "Datsyuk" have been appearing regularly on the score sheet, along with a fair share of secondary scorers named "Hudler," "Bertuzzi," and "Cleary."

However, over the last 10 games, there's been one name conspicuously absent from the "G" column of Detroit's stat sheet.

Call him "Mule," call him "Franzen," by any name, the Red Wings premier power-forward has gone cold as ice when it comes to goal-scoring.

He has chipped in a bit, he has four assists over the same time frame, but the Wings aren't interested in how many of his line-mates he can set up—they want Franzen burying pucks in the back of the net.

Since his phenomenal five-goal explosion against Ottawa on February 2nd, Johan Franzen has become significantly less noticeable on the ice.

The question is, "why?"

It's not his shooting habits: Franzen's shots-per-game average this season is 3.2 and he's actually raised that to 3.4 over the past 10 games.

It's certainly not his line-mates. Playing with Henrik Zetterberg is going to give any scorer a boost as evidenced by Todd Bertuzzi's red-hot goal-scoring of late.

So, why has Franzen's ability to plug puck after puck into the opposition's goal seemingly evaporated.

Well, the answer may lie not in anything that has occurred this season, but last season.

Franzen missed 53 games with a torn ACL in the 2009-10 season, the largest loss for a team that was plagued with injuries virtually the entire year.

Franzen's bullish style of play and willingness to go to the hardest areas of the ice is what has made him the offensive force that he is.

It has also yielded a fair number of injuries.

In his five NHL seasons, Franzen has yet to play in all 82 games.

His physical style and the—shall we say, "attention"—he gets from opposing defenders means his body is going to take a beating season after season.

All of this brings us to this observer's hypothesis: Franzen could be saving himself for the playoffs.

It's not fear of injury and certainly not fear of the opposition, but given Franzen's injury history, he may be letting up a little on the things that have yielded him so much success in the past because he doesn't want to risk putting himself out of commission prior to the playoffs.

Over the past three postseasons, Franzen has averaged a staggering 20 points.

Quite clearly, the kind of hockey played between April and June is the man's favorite version of the sport.

That kind of performance is exactly what he has come to expect out of himself and exactly why the team signed him to a lifetime, 11-year contract two seasons ago.

With his team doing significantly better than they did last season and with more depth and talent on the roster, Franzen may feel a little too comfortable letting up on the play when he would usually press and staying on the perimeter when he'd more often barrel his way into the middle of the action.

This kind of perimeter play is not what anyone has come to expect from "the Mule," but it's the brand of hockey we've seen from him over the past 10 games.

If he has been taking it easier than usual to ensure his tank is sufficient full come April, that's fine, but the Wings can ill-afford their most prolific scorer to remain invisible much longer.

Whatever the reason for Franzen's season-long scoring drought, it's high time for the Mule to kick in with a goal-scoring storm.

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