After a solid start to the year, the Detroit Red Wings have completely fallen apart. Every week there seems to be a new blowout – a new low. Sunday night, a new low came against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Here was the lineup for the 11-2 loss in Pittsburgh.
Earlier in the year, when Detroit experienced some success, it wasn’t the depth players that were powering the victory. Players like Adam Erne and Sam Gagner didn’t contribute much, as Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi and the trio of rookies carried play. If the top line or goaltending had off nights, it was bound to end in a loss for Detroit. Perhaps the only bottom six player that truly contributed offensively this season was Vladislav Namestnikov, and they shipped him off.
That’s not to say that players like Erne and Gagner don’t have their place on an NHL team – they certainly do. Even a playoff contender could use a couple of role depth pieces like them – veteran leadership and some gritty, grinding fourth liners are essential for the makeup of a good team.
The problem for Detroit? These gritty, grinding fourth liners aren’t just sticking to the bottom six. Just look at the lineup against the Penguins. With a lack of firepower in the lineup, the Red Wings are deploying guys like Adam Erne in the top six. No disrespect to Erne, but he is not a top-six player. The same goes for the newly acquired Oskar Sundqvist, who was projected as the second line winger. He is not a top six player.
And the depth isn’t just among the skaters. The Red Wings have a backup goalie problem. Alex Nedeljkovic can’t carry the load every night (in fact, of late, he hasn’t been playing very well himself), so naturally the Wings have to give backup Thomas Greiss the start on occasion. I am not going to mince words here: he has been awful this season. His save percentage is currently sitting at .885, with a goals against average sitting at 3.79. Behind Greiss is Calvin Pickard, who is a borderline AHL goaltender. Sure, he shows flashes of pretty great play, but at the end of the day, he’s not a good second option. So when Nedeljkovic is having a rough stretch or takes a night off, it usually spells disaster for Detroit.
The Red Wings are not deploying winning lineups anymore. Just look at the lineup in Pittsburgh at the top of the page. Some fans are (rightfully so) trying to find someone to blame for the disastrous play of the last few weeks. A portion of the blame should absolutely be placed directly on Jeff Blashill. It’s not like he’s fielding an AHL team against NHL teams. With players like Larkin, Bertuzzi, Seider and Raymond on the roster, Detroit should not be losing to anyone by nine goals.
However, another massive portion of the blame simply lands on the current lineup. It’s bad. Even a coach like Barry Trotz couldn’t win consistently with the lines the Wings deployed Sunday (although there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have lost in such embarrassing fashion with better leadership).
The Red Wings are still bad. There are a multitude of factors contributing, but the most obvious is the roster. With even less depth after the deadline, things won’t get any better by season’s end. It’s unfortunate for fans that have suffered through years of terrible play, but the Red Wings aren’t prepared to play winning hockey this season – and at this point, the same goes for next season.
Patience is a virtue, right?