Two teams that had been rolling through the Eastern Conference. Two coaches that are suddenly, and publicly, frustrated with their efforts.
Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings and Barry Trotz of the Washington Capitals have watched their teams stumble in the last 10 games, while watching the Boston Bruins finally find their footing and climb up the standings.
The Wings had been entrenched in the 2 vs. 3 series in the Atlantic; now they’re three points up on Boston for the three-seed with a game in-hand, looking like they could slip to the wild card.
The Capitals are in the wild card, as they have been, but have now fallen behind the Bruins – both teams have 82 points and 33 ROW, but the Bruins have a game in-hand. Their situation is a little more perilous than that of the Wings, who aren’t going to fall out of a playoff spot at 85 points. The Florida Panthers (76) and Ottawa Senators (75) are still lingering around the bubble, and the Senators have both a game in-hand and one more meeting with the Caps this season.
Trotz has tried to get his team going again after some listless recent efforts with a brisk practice on Saturday. From the Washington Post:
“Right now our game’s hurting a little bit,” Trotz said, relaying the words he spoke to the Capitals before practice began. “Doesn’t mean we’re broke. We’re not broke. We’ve just got to get our heads in the right spot and go to work and get things corrected.”
“I don’t ask players to go above and beyond in terms of 110 percent,” he said. “There’s no such thing as 110 percent. There’s 100 percent and that’s giving your all, and we’re not close to giving our all right now.”
Some of their recent efforts have been, generously, two-thirds of a game. They were taken to task by Trotz for a 5-shot effort against the Dallas Stars in the third period on Friday. They also had a 4-shot second against the New York Rangers and a 6-shot first against the woeful Buffalo Sabres.
Trotz has tried to create a sense of urgency to combat that. From the Post:
“There’s nothing easy in this league. And if you think it’s going to be easy I can guarantee you, most nights you can put an L right next to the column, if you think it’s going to be easy. There’s no easy games in this league. There’s teams that are coming in here that are fighting for their lives, Minnesota, Dallas, and us. We’re in that group now, I think. Ottawa, I looked up, and they were winning tonight, and all the teams behind us are fighting for their lives, getting closer and closer, and we either pick it up or we won’t make it, plain and simple.”
The Red Wings aren’t fighting for their playoff lives at the moment, but they are, like the Capitals, trying to find that aggressiveness and consistency that carried them all season. That’s particularly true for their penalty kill, as opponents have scored a power-play goal in 18 of their last 24 games – an oddity, given that the Wings’ PK was dominant earlier this season.
From the Detroit Free Press and coach Mike Babcock, who watched the Flyers score three power-play goals against them on Saturday:
"I was real disappointed," he said. "Our penalty kill was our greatest strength at one point this year, and today we were paralyzed. We tried to take some seams away and we just stood there and weren't aggressive.
"When we were confident," he said, "our penalty kill was dominant for us, absolutely dominant. We've come off it and now we are on our heels and we are not assertive. We're standing there, watch them shoot it in our net instead of going after them like we were. We have to get our confidence back and get aggressive."
Henrik Zetterberg hoped the PK could turn it around ... because frankly it couldn't be much worse than what it was against the Flyers.
"We've been really good on special teams but we've had a tough stretch here. When that happens you overthink. I think we did that today. But you've got to hit rock bottom before you can turn it around. Hopefully we did that tonight," he said.
The Wings face the banged-up Penguins today, while the Capitals face the streaking Bruins. Will they heed their respective coaches’ wakeup calls?