Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wake Up.

In lieu of writing some very interesting pieces on my road to an NHL game, I've made a pit stop to address the current state of the Red Wings. Rather than flood my Twitter any further with madness, I'm going to take the time to speak my mind here.

The 2013-14 Detroit Red Wings have been more frustrating than Chris Brown fans on Twitter. As of today, Christmas Eve, The Red Wings are 17-13-9, which is a really soft way of saying they have won 17 games and lost 22, and we're very nearly halfway through the season. The team has not performed this poorly in the first half of the season in recent memory, and are clinging to one of the Wild Card playoff spots over the Toronto Maple Leafs (18-16-5) in the final spot and the New York Rangers (18-18-2), who continue to bumble their way up the standings.

To put it nicely, this is nowhere near where the team should be at this point in the season. The teams above (Boston, Tampa Bay, Montreal) are starting to pick up the pace, making it more difficult to rise up the standings later in the season. After a mediocre November that saw the Wings lose FIVE times in a row after regulation, and a current 3-5-2 backslide, the situation is not getting better. The terrible teams in the Metropolitan Division are slowly improving on their terribleness. Mediocrity and laziness are settling in. Everybody's injured. Mike Babcock is probably always angry. Cats and dogs have begun living together.

In all seriousness, the team has not been very good. It would be easy to lean on the reasoning that the injuries make it difficult to win games, especially when the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard, Jonathan Ericsson, Darren Helm, Stephen Weiss, and Daniel DeKeyser have all been out of the lineup at some point due to injuries. Unfortunately, I don't accept this as a valid enough argument for defending the team's awful play. I also don't think it's fair to praise the bevy of talent in Grand Rapids for existing but not delivering wins when they are called up to fill in the roster gaps. Yes, players like Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan, and Gustav Nyquist have been very good, but not good enough to turn the (mis)fortunes of the team around. Statistics and potential don't matter at this moment. Wins do, and we need more of them to separate us from the dogfight that is going to take place in March.

So, where is the problem?

Based on the numbers available here, you could make a fantastic case that the Red Wings, as a team, are the definition of average at every possible category with the exception of a few. They rank in the middle at goals per game (18th), goals against per game (13th), 5 on 5 goals for/against efficiency (15th), power play (16th), shots per game (14th), shots against per game (11th), win percentage when trailing first (13th), and winning when outshooting opponents (15th). It gets worse.

The positives from team statistics are surprising. They rank in the top 10 in penalty kill (8th) and faceoff winning percentage (9th). The negatives tell the true tale of the season. They bomb in win percentage when being outshot (23rd),  win percentage when scoring 1st (26th!), win percentage when leading after 1 period (25th!), and win percentage when leading after 2 periods (29th!!!).

As a team, the definition of the Red Wings becomes more lucid looking at these numbers. They are in virtually every way a middle of the pack team that is good at killing penalties and winning faceoffs, but are among the league's worst when it comes to holding a lead and maintaining any lead the later the game goes. I recognize that one stats page doesn't tell a story, but is is what the team has been doing so far and hockey is a team sport. I'm not going to dump the team's poor performance on Kyle Quincey, Ken Holland, Dan Cleary's Reanimated Corpse, Jimmy Howard, or the porcelain company responsible for crafting Detroit Red Wing players. As a team, they are not playing well. They can't hold leads. They aren't scoring enough. The Christmas break will help some players get their shit together. Others will be waived. Returning players from injuries have to step up. The veterans on this team need to right the ship. The rookies need to keep playing with intensity and not let up any steam their pro careers have.

I have gone MAD trying to find the right words to describe what the team needs to do moving forward. 2013 wasn't good for Red Wings hockey. Last year's playoffs notwithstanding, I think as a team (and a fanbase) everyone has learned that winning won't come easy anymore and nobody is going to be walking into the playoffs this season. 2014 is a chance to turn around the mediocrity and start driving towards the playoffs instead of sliding sideways with OT losses and shootout losses. There's still plenty of time left on the calendar, let's hope the team uses it and doesn't piss away the reputation the team has fought to withhold the last 22 seasons.

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