With a young, talented offensive core showing flashes of what they should be this year during the preseason, and a defense corps that looked game-ready by the end of the exhibition games, the biggest question mark heading into the Detroit Red Wings’ regular season this year was their goaltending.
But the tandem of Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek has been an impressive one so far in the young season. While their GAA are slightly inflated with the recent string of losses, both still have save percentages right around .920. (.922 for Mrazek and .924 for Howard). So if their play between the pipes hasn’t been an issue, what’s causing this young Red Wings team, that everyone favored to contend in the East, to struggle so mightily early on?
The leadership for the team believes they know the answers, and it’s something you wouldn’t expect from a puck-possession team like Detroit.
“They’ve been a concern most of the year,” coach Jeff Blashill said of the turnovers. “We’re a team that historically in Detroit, and myself as a coach as well, wants to use the ‘pop’ play. By pop I mean pop it to the middle of the ice, go tape to tape. Everybody talks about puck possession, historically it’s been judged on being able to use each other and handle the puck up the ice.
“You’re going to have some turnovers but it’s got to be manageable and we have to get better at it. We’re not good at it.”
That’s right. They attribute their slow start to something as simple as turnovers. And it makes sense; in the disheartening 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes this past Tuesday, the Red Wings gave the puck away 12 times over the course of 60 minutes of play. Carolina did once. That speaks volumes to the game Detroit has been playing to this point in the year. Captain Henrik Zetterberg also weighed in on Detroit’s struggles early on.
“It’s just mental errors,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said after Tuesday’s loss. “We either tried to do too much or tried to make the right play but we don’t execute. We’ve talked about it. We just have to get better at it.”
And how do the Red Wings do that?
“(Make the) simple play or making the correct play and execute on the play,” Zetterberg said. “We don’t execute as much as we need to do. Some mistakes will happen when you try to do the play and the other player makes a good play.
“But there’s a little bit too many easy mistakes, easy turnovers, and that’s definitely cost us.”
Virtually, the Red Wings have basically been shooting themselves in the foot with sloppy execution and bad defensive play in their own zone. They’re bottom-dwelling as far as shots-for and shots-against so far this season, and that has to change quickly if they don’t want to be scraping and clawing out of the bottom of the standings.