The temperature dropped to nearly 26 degrees Fahrenheit in Winnipeg on Wednesday night (Dec. 20) as the hometown Jets got set to host the Detroit Red Wings in a late December matchup at Canada Life Centre. But that still wasn’t as cold as the streak Detroit came in on. The team, losers of seven of their last eight, came out flat once again as Winnipeg manhandled them up and down the ice in a 5-2 win. It has been a nightmare for this club from a defensive standpoint as we head into the new year and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. The organization refuses to make any adjustments on the blue line and it’s costing this team valuable points as Detroit looks to return to the postseason for the first time in eight years.
Is it time to panic yet? No, but the clock is ticking on a team that desperately needs some kind of turnaround. Towards the end of November, optimism reigned supreme as the Red Wings sat in third place in the Atlantic Division. They now sit fifth, but only one point back from the final wild card spot. In the last week Detroit has lost their top two goaltenders to injury – Ville Husso and Alex Lyon – and now must trudge forward with journeyman James Reimer as their top option. The 35-year-old netminder struggled again in his latest appearance on Wednesday night, but it’s hard to find fault in his game with the amount of rubber he’s seeing. The Jets outshot the Red Wings 41-28 as their defensive woes were on full display once again. The team has lost its identity defensively and needs to find it quickly before they tumble down the standings.
Defense, We Have a Problem
With Wednesday’s loss, the Red Wings drop to 1-6-1 in their last eight games while also allowing four or more goals six times during that span. Goaltending has been a major issue that this writer has harped on all season, but it’s becoming abundantly clear that their defensive game is broken and there seems to be more than enough blame to go around. Defensive stalwarts Moritz Seider and Jake Walman have been underwhelming at best with a combined minus-9 in ten games this month and have been consistently caught out of position in their own zone. Walman was on the ice for three of the five Winnipeg goals last night and has struggled during this winless stretch as many observers believe he is playing hurt.
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Shayne Gostisbehere was playing sound defensively to start the season but December has also been rough on the nine-year veteran. He’s been a minus-3 in ten games this month and has also been caught out of position – more times than not – including a poorly misread pass that led to a breakaway tally for the Jets on Wednesday night. Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot have seen an uptick in their blue-line play during this time, but that is not a trend this team can count on moving forward. Defensive breakdowns have become a theme on the back end as they’ve haunted the Red Wings on a nightly basis.
The recent rash of goaltender injuries forced the team’s hand in signing Michael Hutchinson to a one-year, two-way contract for the remainder of the 2023-24 season. The ten-year veteran has spent this season with the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins, posting a 5-7-1 record with a 2.98 goals-against average (GAA), a .895 save percentage (SV%) and one shutout in 13 games. In other words, the team wasn’t counting on him to play meaningful games in Detroit this season and was only considered organizational depth up to this point. It looks like the 33-year-old journeyman and Reimer are the tandem for the foreseeable future and that is not something this team can take lightly as their defense continues to struggle.
Head coach Derek Lalonde has hinted that Lyon could be back before the end of the year but that remains to be seen. Detroit is now forced to count on these two in the middle of this massive slump and it’s hard to be optimistic with all things considered. Husso has struggled for most of this season and was originally counted on as the team’s number one option, but that hasn’t panned out like Red Wings’ general manager Steve Yzerman had hoped for. Reimer now steps to the forefront, and that’s not the best solution for a struggling squad.
So where does the team go from here? Detroit is still averaging 3.50 goals per game, good enough for sixth in the league, but has cooled off as of late. Patrick Kane has looked good at times and – depending on his health – will be a key asset for this team down the stretch, but it’s going to take some time. It’s not hard to see the chemistry that he and Alex DeBrincat have. David Perron returns to the lineup Friday against the Philadelphia Flyers after serving his six-game suspension for his vicious hit on Artem Zub in the Ottawa Senators debacle. Dylan Larkin returned earlier this week but will also need some time to adjust. It’s safe to say Detroit sorely missed his presence.
But don’t be mistaken, at the end of the day, this is an all-out defensive issue. Too many odd-man rushes have doomed this team and a solution needs to be found sooner rather than later. Things like miscues in their own end and leaving opposing forwards unmanned in the crease have to be corrected. A vast majority of Red Wings’ fans have lit up social media begging for a Simon Edvinsson call-up, and while I think that’s an issue the team needs to address here shortly, he won’t be the solution to all of their problems. It’s time for Lalonde to take the reins and look for where adjustments need to be made in Detroit’s end. If it’s back to the drawing board, then so be it. The Red Wings still have two games to play before Christmas Day. It’s time to take a long look in the mirror and figure out who they really are. Otherwise, this team could be looking at a very dark winter.