March 7, 2016
Mrazek falters again, Red Wings’ offensive
malaise continues in 4-1 loss at Chicago
By KEITH GAVE
All the handwringing this morning among Red Wings fans will be about what’s wrong with Petr Mrazek, who was getting some buzz as potential Vezina Trophy candidate as the NHL’s best goaltender this season. The truth is, however, that goaltending is the least of Detroit’s problems.
After a second straight lopsided loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-1, Sunday, the Wings find themselves in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and clinging to the second wildcard berth that would qualify them for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But if they can’t get their power play turned around, the Red Wings have no business in the post-season for a 25th straight year. For the middle 45 minutes or so, Detroit dominated the defending Stanley Cup champs on their own ice. But when the Wings had the chance to tie the game – three times with the extra man – they couldn’t find the net.
The Wings have just two power play goals in their last 28 chances. They rank 22nd among the NHL’s 30 teams, which is inexplicable considering they had the second-best power play in the league last season – and all the key players are back.
The difference? Jim Hiller, the assistant coach who followed Mike Babcock to Toronto after last season, ran the power play unit. Coaching matters.
“It’s hard to stand here game after game and say we’re doing good things on the power play when we’re not scoring,” Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg told reporters after the game. “We have to score some goals.”
Rookie coach Jeff Blashill seconded that notion as his frustration is beginning to show.
“I lost my patience and put a different group out there at one point, and that didn’t work,” Blashill said. “Maybe I should have stuck with the normal group, so that’s on me. We just have to keep working at it. We have to find a way to get better.”
Gus Nyquist scored the line Detroit goal, his 16th of the season.
In their defense, the Wings were missing their most dangerous offensive player Sunday. Pavel Datsyuk was a late scratch due to illness.
In his defense, Mrazek offered no excuses and agreed with his coach that he needs to play better than he has been lately.
“Obviously, you don’t want to get in two goals in six or seven minutes,” Mrazek said. “Sometimes the pucks go in. I have to find a way to stop them. I just try to stay positive, just look forward.”
After leading the league in both save percentage and goals-against average a month ago, Mrazek is just 3-3-1 with a pedestrian 3.81 goals-against average and .868 save percentage. Blashill, however, sees the slump as something all players go through, and he’s realistic enough to know that it’s impossible to keep up the pace Mrazek was setting through the first six weeks of 2016.
“He hasn’t played good enough, and he has to play better,” Blashill said. “But I’m not concerned. I know Petr will be fine in the long term.”
Sunday’s loss, combined with the 5-2 loss to Chicago on Wednesday at the Joe, combined with other Eastern Conference teams winning, reduced the Wings’ cushion to just four points over ninth-place Philadelphia.
But if they can’t rise above the No. 8 seed they’ll face the unenviable task of playing Washington in the first round of the playoffs. The Caps are running away with the President’s Trophy as the best regular-season team in the NHL with 100 points already, and 17 games left to play.
So points are critical when the Wings play two sub-.500 teams this week. Their two-game road trip concludes Tuesday at Columbus. Then Winnipeg visits on Thursday.
Look for Jimmy Howard to see more action. While Mrazek has faltered recently, Howard has rediscovered his game. He played well again in relief Sunday, stopping 18 of 20 shots. And the two goals he allowed came on unstoppable deflections.
In other words, the guy Wings fans wanted to run out of town a month ago as the NHL trade deadline may get an opportunity to be the savior.
But considering the lack of production of the offense and the ineptitude on the power play, the second coming of Terry Sawchuk might not be enough for a serious playoff run – If they manage to make the playoffs at all.