The Detroit Red Wings will be one-third of the way through their regular season following Tuesday night’s game in Nashville. And, headed into that one, the Wings sit on the outside looking in at the playoff race, in ninth place in the Western Conference.
Injuries have taken their toll throughout the Wings’ lineup, forcing them to rely on many a young player up front and to make a desperation dip into free agency along the blue line.
Is this team capable of flipping the switch and turning things around? Or is the franchise’s lengthy playoff run in serious jeopardy? We tackle those questions in our latest Roundtable discussion …
1: Do you still believe the Red Wings make it to the postseason?
Chris Burke: I guess so, but my confidence is not exactly sky-high right now. Given how poorly they’ve played at times and how deep into their depth chart they are, it’s kind of amazing the Wings are where they are. I have to assume that the product on the ice will only get better as more and more players return to the lineup.
Max DeMara: Despite all their current flaws, the Red Wings will still find a way to make the playoffs. At this point, they’re not even close to being completely healthy, so as more capable bodies work their way back in, things can only get better. If Ken Holland makes a move to improve the defense by the trade deadline, things might only get better. It’s been a year of runs for Detroit, and I still see them getting hot and sneaking in.
Rob Starrs: I think, with the hope that they can get a guy or two back soon, they can eek into the postseason. But it’s going to be a struggle the whole way.
2: Whether it’s fair or not, Jimmy Howard continues to take a lot of blame for the Wings’ struggles. Has Petr Mrazek’s cameo changed your opinion of Howard at all?
CB: No. I really like Mrazek’s game and think he is going to do big things down the line. But there’s no question in my mind that Howard is the clear No. 1 goalie in Hockeytown.
MD: Half-fair. The Red Wings haven’t played well in front of Howard given their injuries, but Howard hasn’t been nearly clutch enough most of the time to carry the team. Two weekends ago, Howard played like he needed to, but was unable to keep things rolling. I’m interested to see more of Mrazek and a healthy Jonas Gustavsson down the stretch.
RS: I don’t think Jimmy Howard is to blame for the early-season woes. He may have given up some soft goals, but he has been solid for the most part. If the Wings are going to win, they’re going to with Howard — so I guess my answer is no, Mrazek’s showcase didn’t make me think differently of Jimmy Howard.
3: Of the Wings’ players who are currently injured — Bertuzzi, Helm, Franzen, Mursak, Colaiacovo, Smith — which one do they need back the most?
CB: Since Max and Rob stole my first two answers below, I’ll say Franzen. I know fans are critical of him, but he’s one of the few goal-scorers the Wings have and they haven’t won any of the games he has missed.
MD: It’s hard to pick just one of those players considering the key role all play, but at this point, Brendan Smith needs to get well soon. The Red Wings’ defense has, quite frankly, looked awful most of this season. Smith was just coming into his own when injury struck, so hopefully he can continue developing his offensive and defensive game.
RS: The Red Wings need defense, no question about it, but if Darren Helm can make it back to the lineup, I think that will be a major boost. He’s a third-line center and top penalty killer, not to mention the infectious hard-working style of play he brings, which always seems to boost morale on the ice and in the stands at the Joe.
4. Complete the sentence: To turn this around, the Red Wings need to _________
CB: Stop the bleeding. By that I mean, they seem to have these five- to 10-minute stretches each game where everything goes to hell. It happened against Calgary, then against Anaheim and again in Minnesota. Those droughts remind me of watching Rick Porcello pitch — he’ll cruise along, then give up a single and a walk, and the floodgates open. Detroit has to stop those meltdowns, especially right after scoring.
MD: Sharpen their focus. Losing leads stems from a constant lack of attention to detail and will to win. These players are young and learning, but they need to continue to take things one shift at a time and value each moment they are on the ice. The difference lately has been their ability to bear down and stay hungry. When that happens, one goal losses can turn back into one goal victories.
RS: Go out and find a top level defenseman. Is there one to be had? I don’t know. But Ken Holland needs to bolster the back end ASAP.