Wind Beneath These Broken Red Wings

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During the Detroit Red Wings rebuilding years, their faithful fanbase has seen some pretty bad hockey. Hockey that at times, is completely void of anything that resembles the game we all know and love. Nothing solidifies this sentiment more than the Red Wing’s last 13 games. A stretch that has seen them only win three times. No that is not a typo, the Red Wings are an abysmal 3-8-2 in that stretch. A few short months ago the fans at Little Caesars Arena were credited as being loud, high energy, and a factor in the Red Wings winning record by head coach Jeff Blashill. Turn on any home game lately and you’ll find the two worst trends in the NHL. Ten thousand people “wooing” (known as the Rick Flair Woo) and if the game is particularly atrocious, fans doing the wave.

The D-isaster Zone

For NHL teams this is commonly known as the Defensive Zone. The Red Wings have developed a terrible habit this season of falling immediately into what I call a turtle shell defence. Essentially, they go into a formation and hold the center of the ice and allow the offence to pass the puck around almost at will. They stand around and watch the puck until the opposition gets a mismatch along the boards or moves the puck down low and gets a high percentage scoring chance. In the Red Wing’s last game against the Winnipeg Jets, the play went to 4 on 4 when coincidental matching minors were called. As the Jets carried the puck into the Wings d-zone, the Red Wings players immediately fell into a 1-2-1 formation and put ZERO pressure on the Jets puck carrier. The Jets moved the puck fluidly and with no resistance into a brief 2 on 1 down low that resulted in a one-timer shot on goal by Kyle Conner. If not for an amazing save by Alex Nedelijkovic the Jets would have scored with ease in an even-strength situation, albeit 4 on 4. Nedelijkovic has faced the second most shots from the slot in the NHL, at 150. Another stat the Red Wings need to change is the Red Wings are giving up the seventh-most shots against per game average at 33.4. That stat shows how impressive “Big Ned” has been. He has been exceptional for this Red Wings team and if not for him, they would lose by a lot larger margins.

The Neutered Zone

Anyone with even a little hockey knowledge will tell you that the key to a good offence is the ability to move through the neutral zone efficiently and quickly. In fact, the NHL eliminated what once was known as the “Neutral Zone Trap” by changing the way obstruction penalties were called. This made for much more entertaining hockey and allowed the world’s most talented athletes to shine on ice.

For the Red Wings, this isn’t how it’s working right now. Opposing teams are shutting down the middle of the ice and forcing the Wings to make quick passes by pressuring the puck carrier. When the Red Wings are actually able to carry the puck out of their own zone, it typically is a forced pass to a covered player resulting in a quick turnover. If they have a little time to skate through center ice, they will cough up the puck by holding onto the puck too long. Lastly, the dreaded dump and chase strategy. The Red Wings are not a fast team. The key in playing dump and chase hockey is to quickly get the puck in deep, and your forward’s race to the puck and attempt to get the puck back from the opponent with board battles and forcing turnovers. The Red Wings do not win these battles often. For some unknown reason, they will play dump and chase the whole game resulting in low puck possession time and fewer shots on the net over the course of 60 minutes.

The Offended Zone

In the rare case when the Red Wings get control of the puck in their d-zone and then manage to move the puck through the neutral zone, and actually end up in the offensive zone with the puck on their stick. It then becomes the challenge of attempting to get a shot on the net. This seems like such a simple concept. For this Red Wings team, it might as well be college-level advanced calculus. The Red Wings have the fifth worse shots per game average at 28.5. The Red Wing players seem to flounder when faced with skating to the net, passing the puck around the boards, or even simply passing up the open shot and electing to pass the puck. It’s these disastrous decisions that have led to the Red Wings being shut out a league-leading five times this season. In the Wings’ last game against the Jets, they managed to get 33 shots on goal, which would seem like a good effort. However, with a little digging, I found that only 12 of those 33 shots were actually from high percentage scoring areas. Leading to a fairly easy shutout for the Jets netminder, Connor Hellebuyck.

The Red Wings currently hold the league’s second-worst power play percentage at 14.0%. Only the Montreal Canadiens are worse at 11.0%. In the Red Wing’s last game against the Jets, they had a 5 on 3 PP advantage for 1:12. In actuality, it was a full-blown 6 on 3 PP because the Red Wings pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. They failed to score even once. They did have some sustained pressure and did generate a few shots, but didn’t generate any scoring chances where the goalie had to “stand on his head.” The Red Wings PP is laughable at this point. We will talk more about that later in this article.

The Benchwarmers

A.K.A. the coaching staff, consists of in part, Jeff Blashill head coach, Doug Houda assistant coach, Alex Tanguay assistant coach, and PP coach. In his seven seasons behind the bench, Blashill has been praised by General Manager Steve Yzerman for his player development and ability to keep his players motivated. I will agree that through the rebuilding years, the Red Wings have kept a positive and healthy lockerroom atmosphere compared to the previous coaching staff. Many players speak very highly of Blashill and his staff. However, I think it’s time to get a new voice in the locker room. Much like Paul Maurice did in Winnipeg this season, Blashill needs to go.

Players like Dennis Cholowski, Evgeny Svechnikov, Michael Rasmussen, and the latest victim Filip Zadina have been hindered by Blashill. Being benched, scratched in personally important games, or sent back and forth to the AHL like a yo-yo. Now I understand the need of benching a player to send a message or light a fire under the player to perform better. Not all benchings make sense though and in many instances, there have been players far more deserving to sit upstairs than the ones mentioned above. These players are just some of the cases that show Blashill doesn’t have the developmental prowess that he used to.

Maybe the most egregious thing about Blashill is his line deployments. It’s becoming commonplace for our best line to not hit the ice at puck drop for 2-4 minutes. Meanwhile, the opponent has already had numerous scoring opportunities and in some cases already scored. He commonly starts the PP2 line over the PP1 line with Dylan Larkin, Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond, and Tyler Bertuzzi. In the rare instance they do start, he pulls them off the ice at or below 1:00 of PP time. Maybe one of the biggest complaints that Red Wing fans have about Blashill this season is his deployment of Seider. He started the season paired with veteran defenseman Nick Leddy. They instantly had great chemistry and even found themselves ranked very highly on many advanced stat categories including xGoals%. This pairing has been broken up for months as Seider has been handcuffed to floundering defenseman Danny Dekeyser. Since that pairing has been made, Seider has not been quite as effective as he was under Leddy. He doesn’t play with the same carefree nature as he constantly is covering for an older, less agile partner. Seider has also seen his plus-minus drop with Dekeyser as his partner.

The experiment with Tanguay running the PP has to come to an end at some point. This is Blashill’s third assistant that he’s had put in place to run his PP units. Each one found no success, or very limited success, and was fired or not brought back after the off-season. Tanguay’s pre-season PP looked electric and promising. However, it has performed in the regular season as if a large boulder was tied around its ankles and dropped off the Ambassador Bridge. In all seriousness though, these PP lines operate with little to no creativity. What did work earlier in the season with Raymond on the left side has been abandoned. Even putting him in a bumper position in the slot that has failed exponentially. I’m not saying Tanguay should be fired immediately but his fingerprint on this PP is nothing short of a titanic size failure.

My Synopsis

The Red Wings are in the late stages of a rebuild. They have shown us glimpses this season of the potential that exists on this team. They have in small sample sizes shown grit and dogged determination that has been missing from teams in recent years. Sadly this has been gone for the last month or so. Replaced with a pathetic effort level that makes you want to change the channel. The players look afraid to make a mistake. They have no forecheck in the offensive zone, apply no pressure in the defensive zone to attacking players.

The excitement is draining from the fanbase and even the energy level of the players is laughable some nights. No, I don’t believe they have quit on Blashill and no I don’t believe they are tanking for Shane Wright either. I do believe that Blashill’s voice is no longer effective. He can be found speaking at the end of every game talking about “the other team just wanted the points more than we did” or “we didn’t show up to play at the start of the game.” Well, Mr. Blashill that’s YOUR job. You are responsible for getting the team prepared for game day. You are supposed to hold them accountable for their effort or lack of effort in a lot of cases. I have never heard you take responsibility for the team coming out flat night after night. This coaching staff is on cruise control and it shows night after night when this team is incapable of playing for 60 minutes. It’s a long season and I know it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but how long do we have to put up with a coaching staff that is incapable of taking this team to another level?

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Occasional guest on the “Corry Perry is Still An Asshole” podcast. Writer for the greatest hockey team on earth, #LGRW