Detroit Red Wings were having a nice season. Here’s why they imploded

Detroit Free Press

The best thing that can be said about the Detroit Red Wings at this point is that at least in another month, it will be over.

Their mastery since mid-February of reaching new nadirs has undermined the progress shown in the first half of the season and rendered the April 29 finale a beacon of merciful closure. Not only have the Wings not won consecutive games since Feb. 12, they’ve won only twice in regulation since then, and have spent most of the time explaining not just losses, but lopsided losses.

“You are what you do in life,” coach Jeff Blashill said after Sunday’s 11-2 loss to the Penguins, which marked the ninth time this season the Wings have surrendered seven-or-more goals. 

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The Wings are doing what they do in life in front of their boss, general manager Steve Yzerman, and in front of fans — the people who the organization would like to spend money to come see the product in person. It was one thing that the 11-goals against happened on the road, but earlier this month the Wings lost, 9-2 at home to the Arizona Coyotes, and in February there was the 10-7 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“We’ve got to get our heads straightened out a little bit,” Blashill said. “For a long time through the season, we were in the mix of things. We were excited about that. Now we’re not. I’m not sure if we feel sorry for ourselves, whatever. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. We have to figure out a way to go out and play way better.”

On Feb. 13, the Wings were 22-21-6, a respectable record considering they are in a rebuild. They weren’t likely to advance to the playoffs, but at least they were in the conversation for a wild-card spot. They averaged 2.82 goals-per game and allowed 3.39. Since that time, the Wings have gone 4–11–2, scoring an average of 2.82 goals  and allowing 5.00.

As their season has fallen apart, the Wings have talked repeatedly of needing to look in the mirror, to hold themselves accountable. Blashill and his staff certainly bear blame — the multiple bad starts, the defensive lapses, both special teams but especially the power play. The power play didn’t dent the scoreboard through 1:41 with two extra skaters in the 5-2 loss at the Islanders, and went scoreless through 10 minutes of man-advantage time in the 2-1 overtime loss to the Lightning. To have a slow start in a game here and there is understandable during an 82-game grind, but to lack effort game after game is damning.

It’s on Blashill to have the team prepared, but it’s on players to perform.

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Goaltenders Alex Nedeljkovic and Thomas Greiss, and, briefly, third-stringer Calvin Pickard, have gone through rough patches, and while other teams can score enough to ameliorate patchy goaltending, the Wings cannot.

Health has been an issue as well. Just as they gained Jakub Vrana on March 8 after spent the first 56 games recovering from shoulder surgery, Robby Fabbri was lost March 10 to a season-ending knee injury. During the three games in Canada, March 12-17, the Wings didn’t have Tyler Bertuzzi, who remains unvaccinated.  When he rejoined them March 19, he hadn’t practiced with them for more than a week. Defenseman Marc Staal, a veteran with a calming influence, has been sidelined with a lower-body injury the last two games. With Staal and Danny DeKeyser injured, and with Nick Leddy traded March 21, the Wings’ defense corps lacks experience — Jordan Oesterle and Filip Hronek are the only two to have topped 200 games. No one else has topped 77.

The Wings like to say they are “in this together,” and soon they will be out of it, together. Yzerman hasn’t made any drastic changes, and he would know what it is like to go through a season like this — he was on the squad that set the worst record in franchise history at 17-57-6 in 1985-86. Yzerman knows how hard rebuilds are from the perspective both of a player and an executive.

It was expected the Wings would miss the playoffs again this season, but it was also expected they would look more competitive than the previous two seasons. They were not expected to self-immolate, to have routs become routine. The Wings are floundering, and they have themselves to blame, and only they can redeem themselves before they’re out of time.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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