The Detroit Red Wings currently sit at 21st overall in the NHL and 12th in the Western conference. Their current five-game losing streak has seen them plummet from one of only two undefeated teams left in the league to one of the biggest question marks.
Some fans feel that being worried by the current skid is alarmist and way ahead of schedule. I'd call those same fans shortsighted, and their memories may also be slightly deficient.
Last season four points separated the fourth place Anaheim Ducks from the 10th place Calgary Flames in the West. The margin of making and missing the playoffs in the uber-competitive NHL these days is that of two or three games.
To my point: Teams must start accumulating points early and often or be doomed to face an uphill battle for the rest of the season.
I'm not saying that the Wings are dead, that they are going to miss the playoffs or that they should trade Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and a first-rounder for Cody Franson just for the sake of shaking things up.
What I am saying is that Detroit is already trailing the Chicago Blackhawks by five points for the Central division lead, and is only six points ahead of the woeful Columbus Blue Jackets. A 5-4-1 start isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's only a small percentage of a full 82-game season.
However, there are some trends and habits developing in Detroit that are cause for concern.
When we last saw the Detroit Red Wings, they were skating off home ice after dropping a game to the Minnesota Wild in overtime.
The game was irritating for more than one reason. Losing a one-goal lead with a minute to play in regulation, then losing the game in extra time while a man down seemed to point out the flaws in Detroit's armor so far though.
The first month of the 2011-2012 NHL season was full of surprises. Among the most talked about upstarts were the Dallas Stars and the Edmonton Oilers. These teams are winning hockey games at a rate that has surprised most people.
A key for both Dallas and Edmonton has been their airtight penalty kill. Both squads have a top-10 PK, and both teams are in the top third in wins. This isn't a coincidence.
Detroit's penalty kill might not be such a cause for concern, but the Wings have been uncharacteristically undisciplined. If you can't stay out of the box, then you have to be able to kill off the subsequent power plays.
So far this season, the guys in red and white haven't been able to do either of these things.
The Detroit Red Wings currently sport four players who have goals on the power play—Johan Franzen is the only player on the team with more than one tally with the man advantage.
While that fact may not be alarming in and of itself, the names of players who haven't scored on the power play yet are reason for concern. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are both still searching for their first marker on the power play, and secondary guys such as Jiri Hudler and Dan Cleary aren't getting the job done either.
Detroit's power play is currently ranked 22nd in the NHL, making them a bottom-third team when it comes to special teams as a whole.
The Wings absolutely must figure out a way to score power-play goals at a higher rate. Hanging around 15 percent is not nearly good enough for a squad that has been among the most dangerous with the extra man in years gone by.
Coach Mike Babcock has been trying Henrik Zetterberg on the blue line in practice. Kudos for continuing to try and shake things up, but something has to start clicking for Detroit's dormant power play.
The Ottawa Senators, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers have also been among the surprising teams in the NHL. These squads weren't given much of a chance to do damage this season, but all three have been consistently winning hockey games.
What do these three teams have in common?
If you guessed that they have a power play that is clicking around 25 percent of the time, then you guessed right. The power play is an essential part of winning hockey games, and Detroit just has to be better with the extra man.
It's a bit of a statistical anomaly to say the least. The Detroit Red Wings currently lead the NHL in shots taken per game, putting on an average of around 35 pucks on net.
But the shots just have not been finding their way to the twine.
While the shots on goal have been consistent so far this season, the goals scored per game have continued to tank. Detroit's goals per game average of 2.3 is good for 24th in the NHL. That offensive consistency has them in the same block as offensive powerhouses such as the Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames.
Todd Bertuzzi, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Darren Helm all have atrocious numbers for their shooting percentages. While Bert and Helmer aren't relied on for goals, Hank and Z are. Both of Detroit's top players are scoring roughly five percent of the time they shoot.
That just isn't good enough.
Mike Babcock has recently split his top line up. The Euro-Twins now find themselves on separate units, and the coach is trying nearly every line combination imaginable to spark some offensive life into his team.
The team even recalled youngster Gustav Nyquist for a game to see if he could help the ailing offense.
Through the last five games, the Red Wings have seemed lost entering the offensive zone. Players just don't seem to be suffering from rust and confusion—the entire system seems to be suffering from that.
It's a strange thing to see a team with such a high collective hockey IQ bobble and make elementary mistakes on the offensive side of the puck, but that is exactly what Detroit has been doing for the last few weeks. I can't explain it. Hopefully, the internal brains of Detroit's hockey operation can come up with an explanation and change it soon.
Or else the Wings will continue to be good for only one thing, and that's inflating the save percentage of opposing netminders.
Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babbock will speak the words over and over during press conferences and interviews: Your best players have to be your best players.
It's been a common refrain during Babcock's tenure behind the bench, and it certainly applies now. To be honest, I am hard-pressed to think of a time when Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have been this ineffective.
In fact, I think that may be the first time their respective names have appeared in the same sentence as the word "ineffective."
Yet there isn't a better adjective to describe both Zetterberg and Datsyuk.
Datsyuk has at least been collecting points through the last five games. He's put up one goal and has accumulated four points through Detroit's five-game skid. What is alarming is his minus-six rating over that same span.
For a guy who they could rename the Selke Trophy after to be so poor in his own zone is cause for concern. I don't doubt that Datsyuk will find a way to turn around his play in all three zones, but I don't want to see him slip away into bad habits either.
Zetterberg's season is lacking in positives. He leads the team in shots while having the same amount of goals as Ian White. No disrespect to White, but I don't want to see Zetterberg score at the same clip as the journeyman defender.
We all remember the games where it seems like Z is all over the place. At times, it seems like he has the mutant ability to teleport around the ice, stripping pucks and making things happen. So far, Zetterberg has appeared very pedestrian and average.
Both of these guys need to find their A-games if Detroit is going to kick out of its current losing streak and fight its way back to the top of the Central division.
The Detroit Red Wings generally bring a particular mentality with them. They are a puck-possession team that is good in all three zones. The entire roster is ready to do battle—to do the little things needed to win hockey games. They can out-talent opposing teams or they can outwork other teams.
This hasn't been the case since the middle of last month.
The players seem disjointed. There isn't any jump or push or inspiration among them. And I guess I'm not quite sure why.
The Wings started the season looking like a team that had something to prove. They were on fire. It was like each and every guy on the ice had watched their Game 7 loss to the San Jose Sharks on a nightly basis since it'd happened, using it as motivation to be better.
Somewhere along the line, the team lost that momentum and attitude.
I can sit here and crank out statistics all I want. I wouldn't care about Detroit's power play or PK or Henrik Zetterberg's awful shooting percentage if the Wings were winning hockey games. The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup last year with an awful power play and while missing some of their better offensive players.
The fact of the matter is simple: The best hockey teams simply find ways to win hockey games. The Red Wings haven't been doing that during their losing stretch.
The veteran presence in the locker room will hopefully be enough to turn this thing around. Like it or not, another two or three weeks of futility like this and Detroit may be flirting with missing the playoffs for the first time since I was literally a baby.