The wheels are com­ing o≠ the Red Wings

The Washington Post Sunday - - HOCKEY - BY NEIL GREEN­BERG­berg@wash­

It’s all go­ing wrong for the Detroit Red Wings. With a 23-25-10 record, the one­time gold stan­dard for hockey ex­cel­lence is lan­guish­ing at the bot­tom of the East­ern Con­fer­ence, seven points out of the fi­nal wild-card spot with seven teams ahead of it.

Ac­cord­ing to Hockey-Ref­er­’s play­off sim­u­la­tor, the Red Wings have just a 1.2 per­cent chance of reach­ing the play­offs even af­ter they beat the Cap­i­tals on Satur­day, mak­ing it more likely than not we will see an end to the third-long­est play­off streak in NHL his­tory (25 years).

“It’s not fun,” Red Wings for­ward Hen­rik Zet­ter­berg told re­porters. “Noth­ing else we can do but keep fight­ing, keep bat­tling and keep get­ting bet­ter ev­ery day.”

Detroit’s de­cline was in­evitable. Nick­las Lid­strom, voted the league’s best de­fense­man seven times, re­tired af­ter the 2011-12 sea­son. Pavel Dat­syuk, a three-time Selke win­ner as the league’s best de­fen­sive for­ward, de­cided this past sum­mer to re­turn to his na­tive Rus­sia to play with SKA Saint Peters­burg of the Kon­ti­nen­tal Hockey League.

Both were in­cluded among the NHL’s top 100 play­ers of all time, an­nounced in Jan­uary. That leaves Zet­ter­berg, 36, as the best skater re­main­ing from the 2008 championship team.

No team could read­ily re­place two of the best play­ers in league his­tory, but the drop-off for Detroit has been stun­ning. Ac­cord­ing to point shares, an es­ti­mate of the num­ber of stand­ings points con­trib­uted by a player, the tal­ent level on Detroit’s ros­ter is less than half what it was dur­ing the ti­tle run of 2008.

The lack of tal­ent also has eroded the hall­mark of Hockey Town: Detroit’s re­lent­less puck pos­ses­sion.

In 2007-08, the year they won their first Stan­ley Cup in the salary cap era, the Red Wings put a league-lead­ing 58.5 per­cent of even-strength shot at­tempts in their fa­vor, af­ter ad­just­ing for score ef­fects. They led the league again the fol­low­ing sea­son (57.5 per­cent) and made the Cup fi­nal. This sea­son they are put­ting just 47.8 per­cent of shot at­tempts in their fa­vor, seventh worst in the NHL.

Per­haps as the younger play­ers on the ros­ter ma­ture, Detroit will re­turn to the up­per ech­e­lons of the league, but the early re­sults are not en­cour­ag­ing. Eleven skaters 25 years old or younger have played at least one game for the Red Wings this sea­son, but only three of them — for­wards An­dreas Athana­siou, Dy­lan Larkin and An­thony Man­tha — have scored dou­ble-digit goals. Six of those young­sters haven’t scored at all.

But hav­ing the fifth-worst of­fense (2.4 goals per game) isn’t the team’s only prob­lem — the left side of its de­fen­sive pair­ings is sub­par. Danny DeKeyser, Bren­dan Smith and Nik­las Kron­wall all have be­low-av­er­age game scores, an all-in-one met­ric used more in base­ball and bas­ket­ball that gives a rough mea­sure of a player’s pro­duc­tiv­ity for a sin­gle game.

DeKeyser, one of the team’s top-pair de­fense­men, is the most wor­ri­some. The Red Wings give up 2.8 even-strength goals against per 60 min­utes when he is on the ice, but those same line­mates al­low 2.3 per 60 when he is on the bench. Not ex­actly the re­sults you want from a blue-liner skat­ing more than 22 min­utes a night.

The Red Wings also have the league’s worst power play (12 per­cent ef­fi­ciency) and the 10thworst penalty kill (79.8 per­cent kill rate), leav­ing few sil­ver lin­ings for a fan base that has grown ac­cus­tomed to peren­nial suc­cess. The best news? The prize for a sea­son of suf­fer­ing should be an early draft pick. And con­sid­er­ing their his­tory of suc­cess with late draft picks, that should serve as some mea­sure of en­cour­age­ment.


“It’s not fun,” Hen­rik Zet­ter­berg said of Detroit’s re­cent strug­gles. The Red Wings are in dan­ger of end­ing their 25-year run of mak­ing the play­offs.

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