November 2, 2016
Red Wings know what needs fixing
after two losses kill winning streak
By KEITH GAVE
Ten games into the NHL season is a bit early to draw any hard and fast conclusions, but this much we know about the Red Wings: If they don’t get spectacular goaltending, then they have no chance because they cannot outscore their defensive mistakes.
That was painfully evident in two home losses against very beatable, struggling divisional opponents. Jimmy Howard was spectacular again in a 1-0 loss to Boston that could have been much worse. Lethargy on both ends of the ice proved fatal.
It got worse the next night against a banged-up Florida team missing three of its top players. Nevertheless, the Panthers unleashed an inexplicable assault on Petr Mrazek, who allowed four goals on 10 shots before he was exiled to the bench in favor of Howard. The only reasonable explanation for the performance was that the Wings were playing their sixth game in 10 nights, so maybe fatigue was a factor. But this is a team with a lot of young legs; that shouldn’t have been the issue.
Turnovers, giveaways and odd-man rushes toward their goaltender – the Wings were guilty of a veritable hat trick of transgressions that put unreasonable pressure on a fragile defense. Compounding that was a sudden lack of goal-scoring, due in part at least to the loss of winger Tomas Vanek – whose lower-body injury was serious enough to downgrade his availability to week-to-week rather than day-to-day.
The up-tempo, force-the-issue offense that coach Jeff Blashill wants to play only works when it produces enough goals to give the goaltenders something to work with. It was fairly effective in the Wings’ marvelous six-game winning streak that came to such an abrupt end. But shooting blanks, like the Wings did Saturday, or falling behind, 2-0, as they did in the first 6 ½ minutes on Sunday, is a recipe for disaster for a team with plans to advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 26th straight season.
The manner in which the Wings lost those games merely reinforced the notion we had when the season began: the defense corps does not meet the standards of an NHL playoff team. To be sure, it will help immensely when Niklas Kronwall – arguably the most important player on the roster – can begin playing following knee problems.
But no one knows when that might be; he just started skating with contact this week. And it’s impossible to predict how the legs will hold up.
Even if he does return, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to withstand 23 minutes or so every other night playing in all situations. Approaching his 36th birthday, Kronwall has evolved into the kind of player who needs a night off every now and then – like the second game on back-to-back nights.
Heading into Wednesday night’s game at Philadelphia, another imminently beatable opponent, the Wings are a surprising 6-4. They’ve been able to do it while breaking in two young defensemen, the offensive-minded Ryan Sproul and more stay-at-home Xavier Ouellet. Both, surprisingly, are plus-players in the five games they’ve played.
Blashill is trying to give Brendan Smith more responsibility, with limited success. He has a goal and just two points with a minus-3 in 10 games.
Because of his presence on the power play, Mike Green leads the team in ice-time with 23., though he probably shouldn’t be. He’s a serious liability five-on-five. Danny DeKeyser is next at 22:15, but with just one assist in 10 games (though still a plus-one), it feels like he’s pressing after signing a six-year, $30 million contract in the off-season.
Alexey Marchenko, three assists and plus-3 while averaging 19:13 in ice time per game, and Jonathan Ericsson, two assists and plus-2 in 17:37 of ice time, have been Detroit’s two steadiest and most dependable defenders. Both have a strong argument for more ice time.
It’ll be interesting to see how General Manager Ken Holland sorts out his roster when Kronwall returns. Sproul, because of his shot and puck-moving abilities, appears to have the upper hand over Ouellet, but the situation, as they say, remains fluid.
It’s no secret that the Wings would like to acquire another defenseman. With Farmington Hills native Cam Fowler off the market in Anaheim, another potential option is Jacob Trouba, 22, the last unsigned restricted free-agent on the market who is demanding a trade out of Winnipeg.
Trouba, a 6-foot-3, right shot defender drafted ninth overall by the Jets in the 2012 draft, could be the franchise-type defenseman who is rarely available in the trade market. Or not. Teams tend to keep these guys when they’re lucky enough to draft them, but despite his immense upside Trouba ranks third among Winnipeg’s right-shot defenseman, and feels he deserves more ice time.
He also wants a contract worth upwards of $5.5 million a year.
The asking price in the trade market is specific – and immense. Winnipeg wants a defenseman similar in age and upside, only a left-hand shooter. For starters. Detroit doesn’t have one. And any deal that might include a package of something like Gustav Nyquist and Ryan Sproul seems like far too much. Especially for a defenseman like Troube whose game is still developing.
Meanwhile, Trouba sits at home in suburban Detroit, working out on his own, waiting for a trade that must happen before Dec. 1 or he will have to sacrifice an entire season. At $5.5 million per, that’s about $30,000 a day – or $600,000 so far.
The Jets visit The Joe on Friday. They’d prefer to pick up their young defenseman and continue on without him. I’d prefer the Wings look elsewhere for a defenseman. There’s just something troubling about a kid with so much potential who doesn’t want to be out there playing.