Five games into the season, the Detroit Red Wings were looking like they would be, as they often are, the class of the Western Conference. Undefeated, they faced off against the similarly undefeated Washington Capitals in a match billed as a battle between two of the NHL's best teams.
They lost that game 7-1, doubling their goals allowed on the season. It was embarrassing.
Of course, someone was going to have to lose their unbeaten record, so it wasn't exactly worth getting too worked up over. The next one, however, was. Up against the winless and hapless Columbus Blue Jackets, the Red Wings lost again, this time by a score of 4-1. What could be more embarrassing than that, short of having all your games presented by Amway?
Continued losing, that's what. The Red Wings have now lost six straight by a combined score of 22-6, and some people are beginning to wonder if they're a little worse than they originally appeared.
Can the Red Wings actually be as terrible as they've looked over the past two weeks? Is it possible that the 0-5-1 team, not the 5-0 team, is the real one? Perhaps. Here are 5 reasons that the Red Wings might be the bad team (6 if you count the abovementioned sudden inability to win games):
1. Ian White is not Brian Rafalski
The retirement of Brian Rafalski upset the delicate balance of one of the NHL's finest pairings: the perfectly smooth, puck-moving and powerplay-quarterbacking unit of Rafalski and Nicklas Lidstrom.
While Rafalski's not about to go down in history, as Lidstrom is, as the second-greatest defenseman to ever play the game, he will go down in history as Lidstrom's greatest complement.
He complemented the Red Wings' system perfectly too, especially in his ability to generate offense and possess the puck, and in this regard, it's impossible to miss Ian White's inability to be Brian Rafalski. Through 11 games, White a plus-1 with four assists. Through the first 11 games of 2010-11, Rafalski was a plus-4 with 11 assists. That's a lot of missing offense, especially on the powerplay, which is operating at an abysmal 15.6 clip, good for 20th in the league.
2. Lots of other veterans have moved on
Rafalski isn't the only conspicuous absence in the Red Wings' veteran core. Gone, too, are Chris Osgood, Kris Draper, and assistant coaches Paul MacLean and the late Brad McCrimmon.
They were important parts of this delicate ecosystem as leaders, strategizers, and yeomen.
Do you go to church? Imagine your church without all the old people. Nothing gets done.
3. Henrik Zetterberg's not looking so hot
Henrik Zetterberg hasn't had a season below 70 points since the lockout. You're probably fully aware of what he brings to the Red Wings. The problem is that he's just not bringing it. Zetterberg has only 2 goals and 2 assists through his first 11 games, good for an 82-game pace of 30 points. He hasn't had a multi-point game yet this year, and neither has he collected points in consecutive games even once.
He's also a team-worst minus-6. The defensive side of the game isn't usually a concern for Zetterberg, who has only finished in the minuses once in his NHL career, but that year was last year. If Zetterberg is trending downward defensively, the Red Wings are in trouble.
4. Perennial Selke winner Pavel Datsyuk's got a scary plus/minus too
Since the lockout, Pavel Datsyuk has never finished lower than plus-11 in the category. He's also won infinity Selke trophies. In other words, he's pretty good at playing defense. So far this year, he's a minus-5. Seriously. Seeing Pavel Datsyuk as minus-5 is a little like seeing Jenny McCarthy getting a flu shot.
5. Normally, the Red Wings score goals
There are a lot of shocking stats floating around about the Wings right now, but the one that makes my jaw drop the hardest is their 2.18 goals per game average.
To put that in perspective, that's .01 better than the Minnesota Wild (who, consequently, have beaten them 1-0 and 2-1 during this recent losing stretch).
What do you think ails the Red Wings?