After nine games, the Detroit Red Wings have eight points (3-4-2) and are fourth in the Central Division. They've given up six more goals than they've scored. They've yet to win on the road (0-3-1).
Their injury situation has been punishing, with Datsyuk hindered at the start of the season and Johan Franzen(notes) lost for months with an ACL tear. They don't have a player in the top 10 of any major offensive category, including plus/minus, where they had two players (Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) and Pavel Datsyuk(notes)) at the end of last season. The always-maligned Chris Osgood(notes) has started the season with a 3.16 GAA and an .890 save percentage in seven games.
Again, it's been nine games; but nine games are a large enough sample for national media, Detroit media and the blogosphere to take a critical look at a team that's critically underperforming.
Some of the analysis is scathing, some of it is panicked, but much of it applies the kid-glove label of "transition year" to a team that came one win over the Pittsburgh Penguins away from the Stanley Cup last spring, and to a franchise that's been able to reload like a gunslinger for the last 15 years.
All of it points to two questions: What's wrong with the Red Wings, and can they recover?
Saturday night's 3-1 defeat to the Colorado Avalanche was the tipping point. Again, the Red Wings played well. Again, that amounted to nothing in the standings but another increase in the loss column. Enough was enough for George James Malik of Snapshots:
Stop sounding like Pollyanas. Stop saying how the opposition goaltender was just too good, or you're "getting chances" on your power play, are "looking better," that the "tide is turning"...
Anything you say can and will be used against you by a fan base that expects results, not boundless optimism. You sound like you're patronizing us, and that includes you, coach Mike Babcock.
Shut up. Win. Then tell us that you're going to fulfill the promise your team holds and your fans' expectations that you will win the Central Division instead of squeaking into the playoffs because you cannot or will not accept that you have a winning problem when you lose six of your first nine games and every road game you've played because you blow leads, blow scoring chances, and blow chunks in terms of commitment to the attention to detail and the painful but necessary work involved in clearing your own slot, not giving up the puck through neutral ice, and charging toward the opposition net, putting pucks there, retrieving their rebounds, and jamming them into the net.
The Wings have been asked about, and addressed, those struggles. Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart attempted to define them to the Detroit News:
"It's one those stretches that you go through," Brad Stuart(notes) said. "It just happens that it's at the start of the season and the tendency is to try to do things differently. But I don't think we need to do that. We just have to continue to work through it."
In the Wings' favor is a core of veterans who have been through dry spells like this before, and a coach who steadfastly believes in the system and the players who are paid to execute it.
"It can be hard (to keep the mounting frustration from changing the way guys play), but we have enough guys who know that's not the route to go," Stuart said. "The route to go is the long-around. If we continue to do the things we're doing, we will be all right."
Detroit's captain noted the offseason losses for the Wings, and the number of new faces (Justin Abdelkader(notes), Ville Leino(notes), Jimmy Howard(notes), Todd Bertuzzi(notes), Patrick Eaves(notes), Jason Williams(notes) and Brad May(notes)) that have entered the fray on a fulltime basis this season. From NHL.com:
"I think when you have new players it's a matter of them getting used to our system and getting to know how we play," Nicklas Lidstrom said. "You can't just insert a number of players and expect to be right back where you want to be all the time. It takes time sometimes, and that's why you have to stick with the system that you're playing and stick with your foundation and not get away from playing the way you want to play."
It's been a clunky transition for the new faces. Bertuzzi is stuck on one goal. Leino has three points in nine games. Abdelkader has two points in nine. May and Eaves had zero points in four games, while Williams had five in nine.
"Transition" ... it's a curious word to use for the Red Wings, who along with the New Jersey Devils have been the only franchises not to suffer through a few years of the doldrums while they restocked the cupboard.
Is that about to change? Red Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano, on The Fan 590 in Toronto, stirred the pot recently when asked what's wrong with Detroit. Via the Free Press:
Devellano explained that losing goal-scorers Marian Hossa(notes) and Jiri Hudler(notes) hurts. "You can't lose those types of players and have the record we had a year ago. We're gonna have to work very, very hard to be competitive and make the playoffs. That's the truth."
Devellano later said the front office understands this season would be the first one of its kind in nearly 20 years."The way Kenny Holland describes our year, and he's warned our ownership and our people, this is a year of transition for the Detroit Red Wings ... because of the cap, because of the people we've lost."
Again, given where the team was last season, given who it's been for the last 20 years and given the talent still headlining the roster, is this outlook acceptable?
Not if you're The Chief from Abel To Yzerman, who isn't willing to write this year off quite yet despite Devellano's comments:
Not sure if Jimmy D watched those first two periods, or the Chicago game or the Caps game or much, even, of the Phoenix game. He's calling it a "transition year" for the Wings. Lots of people are throwing that phrase around. Jimmy D said, in the Lajoie interview that Malik posted, that the Wings will have an "ass ton of cap space next year. We'll be spending money like a Sailor in Subic."
Nope. He didn't say that. He did say there was reason for optimism next season. Awesome.
I'm not into optimism for next year. I'm into cautious realism for this one. The fact is that if the Wings play sixty minutes two out of every three games? This is a non-topic. Even if they start to pick their spots to ease off a little better, this goes away. In fact, a two goal lead in the third period? That's gonna help a bit too. Cleary, Zetterman, Datsyuk, Lidstrom, Leino, Rafalski, Williams....of those players only Leino has more than one goal (2). You seriously think that kind of scoring drought is going to continue?
No. Well, hopefully not. The fact is that the Red Wings are struggling out of the gate in the wrong season, as up-is-down in the Western Conference and playoff spots that appeared slotted for the elite are being slowly claimed by the peasants. It's going to take an epic nosedive for the Colorado Avalanche (18 points) and the Los Angeles Kings (16 points) not to be near the bubble this season after their torrid starts. Chicago, Columbus and Calgary are all on schedule. Vancouver's just getting warmed up, and the Ducks haven't made noise yet.
This isn't to say Detroit won't be a playoff team. This is to say that Devellano's correct in thinking that the Red Wings are going to have to fight like hell to make them, especially if this early season swoon is prolonged.
If it is prolonged ... blame the cap, as Devellano does? Or can the criticism finally cut through the Teflon that's protected the Wings' front office for the last few years in managing that cap?