The Red Wings lost their #2 conference ranking last night to the San Jose Sharks, who beat the Dallas Stars to put them three points out of the final playoff spot with six games to go. The Wings continue to tread water at the top of the Central Division and now see their lead over 2nd place Nashville down to four points. Even worse, the 7-goal loss against St. Louis now has the Wings' goal differential below the Predators'. It's all well and good to have scored 41 more goals than your opposition, but it's worrisome to have allowed a whopping 42 more into your own net, especially when defense wins championships.
You know what though? I'm not as worried as I could, and probably should be. Yes, I am worried. It's that time of year when you're supposed to be worried. But, here are a few good reasons for hope:
- Remember Pavel Datsyuk? The guy is amazing, electric even. I'm not throwing all of my hope onto just his shoulders, but he simply makes everybody around him better. Want some stats to back that up? (of course you do!) Without Datsyuk, Detroit gives up 3.48 goals-per-game, scores only 3.12 and earns only 52% of possible points on their schedule. With Datsyuk, Detroit gives up 2.67 goals per game, scores 3.25, and earns 68% of their possible points.
- Nick Lidstrom is currently averaging just over 23:30 per game. He leads the Wings' defense in that regards, but that's his regular season number. I know that what happened on Wednesday was one of the five-worst games he's likely had in his career, but the guy is money. When the 2nd season rolls around, look for him to add about 3-4 minutes per night. Those are minutes that guys like Jonathan Ericsson won't spend covering other teams' top lines.
- Come to think of it, there isn't a single Red Wings' forward averaging 20 minutes or more per game. Hart Trophy hopeful Corey Perry is 2nd only to Ilya Kovalchuk among forwards, chugging along at 22:07. These guys are professional athletes and can handle playing two and a half minutes more per game than Zetterberg, but more minutes in the regular season means more grind. In fact, Z is the only Red Wings forward in the top 100 for total ice time this season. Injuries and whatnot aside, Detroit has been getting by on their scoring depth. No other team in the league has as many 10-goal scorers as Detroit (with 12). Those suddenly-frightening Sharks? They have seven. If Torrey Mitchell can find the net once more, that will give them 8. The incredibly balanced, methodical, and scary Canucks have 9 (which could jump to 11 if their two 9-goal scorers hit their marks). Any playoff team worth their salt can shut down or at least severely limit a team's top two lines. Depth scoring can be very important when it comes to tipping the scales back to your favor.
Listen, I know that there are still issues. The Wings give up too many goals; the Wings don't put together full 60-minute efforts; other teams have consistently been hotter over the second half of the season. I know. You're going to worry no matter what I tell you. Good on you for that. The worry makes the victories that much sweeter.
Follow me after the jump for a few more thoughts from around the league.
- I really didn't want to have to discuss Todd Bertuzzi two weeks in a row, but his actions on Monday forced it. Listen, there's still no comparing Matt "4 suspensions since I became a Penguin and a few more deserved" Cooke. But, by now everybody knows everybody else's feelings on that particular hit on Ryan Johnson. What I want to know from all the ivory-tower-living howler monkeys who keep screaming about this hit is where are you every time somebody on a Marc Crawford-coached team lays a cheap hit? Yes, Bert is the one who did the deed, but it just seems nice that the guy who ordered it done never seems to have his name dragged through that memory whenever it comes up. Mario Lemieux was sure onto something when he said that the league needs to start finding teams responsible for the actions of their players. For one thing, they can start behind the benches.
- Congratulations to Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning for clinching a playoff spot with their victory last night. I'm not sure about their chances to go deep this season, but I know that they're infinitely better than a team that won't make the cut. Watching them develop their identity over the course of the season has been a lot of fun.
- Now that the congrats are out of the way, I'll remind everybody that Tampa Bay has three fewer points than Detroit in the standings and the Wings have technically not clinched a spot yet. The differences between the conferences is growing to be more than statistical aberration. I'll maintain that the top contenders in the East could make a good series with anybody, but the also-rans and the early-droppers are just terrible.
- Speaking of terrible groups of teams (SEGUE!), can we start to temper some of this editorial drool we're seeing for how far-and-away dominant the Canucks are in the standings with a look at the rest of the Northwest division? As a total, the Northwest has gained the fewest points of any division (403 compared to the Pacific's leading total of 468). If the two teams at the bottom of that division weren't finishing their seasons against one another, it would be technically possible for Vancouver to have as many points as Edmonton and Colorado combined. You still have to win the games, but Vancouver is 16-2-2 against their hapless division rivals. Does this hurt them going into tough playoff series? We've seen the Wings play two very close-fought games with the Canucks this season. I'll say that Vancouver has all the right tools in place (at least on paper) to win the cup, but they have to prove they can actually do it.