We've heard a lot in the last few weeks about how difficult it is to win when your lineup has been thinned out by a large number of injuries. This is especially true for anyone who watches "HBO 24/7", because both episodes so far seem to have devoted a ludicrous amount of time to explaining just how badly everyone on that team, and in particular players upon whom the teams rely heavily, is injured.
They are so, so injured.
And that's why the Red Wings and Maple Leafs are losing so badly.
For instance, the Wings are without Jimmy Howard and and Danny DeKeyser and Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist and Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm and Stephen Weiss, and also recently spent a little bit of time sans Pavel Datsyuk. It's a tough position in which to find a team, and consequently the losses have piled up. They're 3-5-2 in their last 10, and those wins have come against some truly awful teams in Calgary and Toronto.
Those same Leafs, meanwhile, are missing Dave Bolland and Tyler Bozak and Paul Ranger and Colton Orr and Trevor Smith. David Clarkson and Dion Phaneuf have likewise missed time due to suspension in the last two weeks.
This isn't, of course, exactly an equivalent loss. Most of those players suck and wouldn't be missed on most teams' NHL rosters, but this is nonetheless being called one of a few reasons for the Leafs' recent struggles, on top of their lack of things like “effort” or “talent.” They're 4-5-1 in their last 10, but their last regulation win aside from last Saturday's inexplicable bludgeoning of Chicago was on Nov. 19. Yes, they have just two regulation wins in more than a month. Bozak and Bolland being back twice over doesn't solve that problem.
Not all teams ravaged by injury, however, are making excuses or losing. The Penguins and Bruins both have a bunch of guys out of the lineup too, and yet have continued to win despite the ready-made excuses. Boston's not exactly going without the type of player Detroit is, but missing Loui Eriksson, two defensemen (Dougie Hamilton and Adam McQuaid), and two checking-line forwards (Dan Paille and Chris Kelly) isn't easy. Nonetheless they're 7-3 in the last 10.
Pittsburgh is, obviously, missing the beginnings of an All-Star team: Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, and a few other assorted odds and ends, and yet cannot be stopped. At 9-1 in their last 10 games, and 17-3 at home this season, they're one of the hottest teams in the league.
And so this becomes a question of what the differences are between these Eastern Conference teams decimated by injury, and why two can rise above and two cannot. Not that Toronto is in and of itself anywhere near the level of Boston or Pittsburgh, Detroit was very much supposed to have been, and so it's reasonable to ask why things have gone so awry.
The divergence in the end seems to come as a result of rosters which have elite players and depth, and those which do not. Toronto's boasts Phil Kessel and, if you want to be generous, Dion Phaneuf. Detroit's has Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, but both have spent some time injured. Boston's has Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and Tuukka Rask. Pittsburgh's has Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, but while the latter two have been injured at various points, Crosby's insane run in December (7-11-18 in 10 games) has made the other two not matter.
This is hardly a revelation, though. Teams with more good players do better than teams without them. Obviously. But it comes down to who replaces players who go missing. And when teams fail in this regard, it's on the GMs rather than coaches or even players themselves. No one's expecting a team with five, six, or seven injuries to everyday NHLers to keep their heads too far above water, but when they start drowning, that's on organizational depth.
From a rational standpoint, the Penguins and Bruins shouldn't have the ability to cover with high-quality replacement players because they've spent some years now at the top of the league; this is true also of the Red Wings, albeit to a lesser extent, but then we're repeatedly told how shrewd a drafting and player-developing organization Detroit is, even if all evidence stands to the contrary at this point and if you look at the number of games played by recently-picked Wings prospects over the last five years or so.
Toronto, meanwhile, is a horror show in this regard and has been for a while, and their decline under the weight of injuries seems more like the second-half collapse of the Wild a few years ago; it is perhaps exacerbated on by a quarter of the roster being on IR, but it would be coming even if they were fully healthy.
If you want to be elite in this league, you have to do everything on an elite level. That includes not only play in the NHL, which is what Detroit has rightly been lauded for these past two decades, but also identifying and developing good young players.
Boston and Pittsburgh are elite teams because they do those things. Add Chicago and Los Angeles and San Jose and Anaheim and maybe even St. Louis to that list.
No one outside the Greater Toronto Area was under any illusion as to the quality of the Leafs, but this is really pulling back the curtain on how good Detroit isn't.
They're just not built for success in this league any more.
What We Learned
Boston Bruins: Here's a really bright decision by multiple-concussion sufferer Patrice Bergeron - Allowing a guy who has six inches and 30-something pounds on him punch him repeatedly in the head.
Carolina Hurricanes: Justin Peters made 47 saves and helped the Hurricanes get a point against Tampa, and Jim Rutherford just laughed and laughed as more teams called him trying to pry away this Peters kid.
Colorado Avalanche: So is there an actual psychic link between Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene? I mean, look at this goal.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers are feeling great these days, as they're now just six points out of a playoff spot. That's just a really nice way of saying they're now 14th in the East.
Los Angeles Kings: Martin Jones is now the NHL record holder for consecutive wins to start a career. Yeah, I know he's only 8-0 and Ray Emery started 9-0, but those nine wins were spread out from 2002-03 to 2005-06, so the amount that counts in my book is zero percent. What a load of garbage. Also, “wins” is a stupid stat for goalies and if you like them you're an idiot.
Montreal Canadiens: This is a nice goal from Max Paciroetty, who is not a guy you want to let get behind you in such a manner.
New York Islanders: Tom Vanek on the Isles' problems in losing to the Ducks: “I think two of the goals came off faceoffs that were both icing calls, which I don’t think were icings, but we tend to focus on the bad stuff instead of regrouping and getting the puck out.” Also, you played the Ducks and they are roughly a billion times better than you.
St. Louis Blues: Alex Steen will miss tonight's game with an upper-body injury, but it's only against the Flames so they could call up your dad to take his place and St. Louis would still walk away laughing.
Washington Capitals: The Capitals have allowed 19 goals this season that were scored within 150 seconds of their having scored themselves. Kind of amazing. Nick Backstrom on the issue: “I don't know if we're relaxing after a goal or whatever, but we need to do something different.” Hmm, yes.
Play of the Weekend
Gold Star Award
The above-mentioned hatties for Getzlaf and Vermette were of course noteworthy but so too was Chris Stewart's, even if it was only against the Oilers. Can't be too often you see three hat tricks league-wide on the same night.
Minus of the Weekend
Nice to see Canada getting another early start on playing dirty at World Juniors.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “Lime” gets things off on a sour note (sorry).
F Jason Spezza ($7.0M thru 14/15)
F Clarke MacArthur ($3.3M thru 14/15)
F Alex Burrows ($4.5M thru 16/17)
F Dave Booth ($4.3M thru 14/15)
F Hunter Shinkaruk
D Jordan Subban
1st Round Pick in 2014
If you need me, I'll be down here on the floor, dying.
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