Tha Sports Junkies 101

Why the Red Wings’ Playoff Streak will end in 2017

Why the Red Wings' Playoff Streak will end in 2017 TheKarenD/via

Detroit currently in danger of missing postseason for first time since 1990


Streaks are as common in sports as wins and losses. You see winning streaks, losing streaks, scoring streaks, point streaks, goalless streaks, and many others. Most streaks, though, don’t start until the season begins. However, the Detroit Red Wings entered the 2016-17 season with one of the most impressive streaks in all of sports.

The Red Wings began the new campaign riding a streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances, which is currently the longest playoff streak in all of North American professional sports. Excluding the lockout season of 2004-05, Detroit has been a part of the NHL’s postseason party every year since 1991.

The last time the Red Wings missed the playoffs:

  • the Edmonton Oilers won their fifth, and most recent, Stanley Cup
  • Wayne Gretzky had just finished his second season with the Los Angeles Kings
  • Sergei Fedorov and Nicklas Lidstrom had been drafted by Detroit the year before but still had not made their debuts with the team
  • the NHL only had 21 teams
  • Home Alone was the top movie of the year
  • George Bush (dad) was president
  • Parachute pants were popular
  • “Ice, Ice Baby” was a few months away from being the first rap single to reach #1 in the U.S.

This gives you a pretty good idea just how long it’s been since Detroit has not had playoff hockey during an NHL season. Despite growing a strong disdain for them growing up during the ’90s, that streak is something even I can respect.

While it’s certainly been an impressive streak, it is one that has come close to ending in recent seasons.

Since the NHL restructured the playoff format prior to the 2013-14 season, Detroit has not finished higher than third in their division, which is the final automatic playoff spot under the new format.

In 2014, the Red Wings extended the streak by making it as a wild card team and then last year, they needed help on the last day of the season to clinch a spot in the postseason to keep the playoff streak alive.

This season, however, seems to be the year where it might finally end and I do believe they will NOT make it 26 years in a row.

At the halfway point of their season, Detroit is currently in 8th place in the Atlantic Division, six points behind the Ottawa Senators for the final automatic playoff spot in the division. And the way things are looking in the Eastern Conference, getting a top-three spot is going to be the only way the Red Wings reach the postseason.

The Metropolitan Division has five teams in a playoff position right now and it looks like that’s how it will remain for the rest of the season.

One of the biggest struggles for the Red Wings this season has been getting the puck in the net. Their leading goal scorers, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha, only have 11 goals (Mantha has done it in 15 fewer games than Larkin). Apart from them two, off-season signing Thomas Vanek is the only other Detroit player that has at least 10 goals.

Captain Henrik Zetterberg leads the team in scoring with 28 points and looks like he will surpass last season’s total of 50 points. However, after him, only Vanek and Frans Nielsen are the only players that have 20 or more points.

This points out another problem the Red Wings have: lack of depth scoring.

Last season, Tomas Tatar, Justin Abdelkader, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, and Darren Helm, some of Detroit’s better depth players, combined for 84 goals. This year, they only have 21 goals between the five of them.

The lack of production has led them to score only 103 goals in 41 games.

In fact, only seven other teams in the entire league have scored fewer goals than the Red Wings up to this point in the year. Ottawa, Florida, Buffalo, and New Jersey are the Eastern Conference teams that have scored fewer goals than Detroit. Of those four, New Jersey is the only team that does not have more points than the Red Wings.

And you can’t score goals if you don’t create chances, something Detroit has struggled with as well.

The Red Wings are 21st in the NHL in shots on goal per game, averaging 29.1 shots. In today’s NHL, that won’t win you a lot hockey games.

Another offensive woe this team has had has been the inability to score on the power-play.

When they were dominating the league during the ’90s and early 2000s, the Detroit power-play was a part of their game that struck fear into opponents. With guys like Fedorov, Lidstrom, Yzerman, and Shannahan, you were asking for trouble if you took too many penalties against the Red Wings.

Today, that seems like ancient history.

At this point in the 2016-17 season, Detroit is dead last in power-play efficiency (11.1%) and in power-play goals (15).

While putting the puck in the net has been a problem this year in Hockeytown, keeping it out of their own net has been just as big, if not more, of a problem.

Detroit has allowed 119 goals in 41 games this season, the fourth-worst total in the East and tenth-worst in the NHL. Their -16 in goal differential has them tied with Vancouver for sixth-worst goal differential in the league.

Part of the reason they have allowed so many goals is that they allow just as many chances. The Red Wings allow the tenth-most shots against, averaging 30.7 shots against per game.

And those defensive deficiencies have affected seems to be everyone’s plus/minus. Of the players who have played 25 or more games, only seven are plus players. However, of those who have played all 41 games so far, only Zetterberg is a plus player.

What has attributed to those defensive problems has been the struggles between the pipes.

Last season, Petr Mrazek took over the starting job from then-starter Jimmy Howard. Mrazek played well last season, going 27-16-6 with a 2.33 goals against, .921 save percentage, and four shutouts in 49 starts.

This season, however, he has struggled, going 9-10-4 in 24 appearances with a 3.14 GAA and .896 SV%. It also hasn’t helped that Howard has missed a bunch of games, since he has outplayed Mrazek this season.

Howard is 5-7-1 with a 1.96 GAA, .934 SV%, and one shutout. The problem is he’s only appeared in 17 games so far this season, due to a groin injury and having been placed on injured reserve in late December due to an MCL sprain.

Now, if you’re a Red Wings fan you may say, “well, when Howard gets healthy we’ll start winning.” Howard getting healthy may help, but he can’t score goals. And, at the end of the day, you have to outscore your opponent if you want to get two points.

You may say, “when we start scoring goals, we’ll start winning.” Yes, picking up the scoring will definitely help them win games, but the problem is this roster has not shown they can score in bunches on a consistent basis.

Last season, Detroit finished 23rd in the NHL in goals scored, scoring 209 goals and the roster did not change much this off-season. Bringing in Vanek was supposed to help, since he is a four-time 30-goal scorer. However, he has not reached the 30-goal plateau since the 2010-11 season.

Nielsen was brought in as a major free agent signing after having scored 25 and 20 goals, respectively, in two of the last three seasons. However, he did that while playing with John Tavares on the New York Islanders and the Red Wings don’t have a player near Tavares’ level.

Larkin led the Red Wings in scoring in goals last season, but he only managed to get 23 goals.

So unless Fedorov, Yzerman, and Shannahan walk back through that door, I don’t see how this team will generate more offense.

You may say “we’ll start winning when our defense gets better.” A great defense can help win more games, but, like on the offensive side of the puck, this roster is not very deep.

Niklas Kronwall is not the defenseman he used to be. Neither is Mike Green. And after Brendan Smith, Danny DeKeyser, and Jonathan Ericsson, there is not a lot of NHL experience.

Let’s say, though, all these things get better for Detroit, there’s still a big problem: they have to jump a few teams.

Just to get to third place in the division, they have to get past five other teams. That list includes Florida and Tampa Bay, who both made the playoffs last year, as well as an improved Toronto team. Toronto and Ottawa also have two games in hand on the Red Wings.

Detroit does have a game in hand on Florida and Tampa Bay, but Tampa should get better once they get healthy and Florida is four points ahead of the Wings.

The only real chance Detroit has at this point is that they get red-hot and the other teams in front of them start slumping badly. I just don’t see it happening.

They say all good things must come to an end and I believe we will be seeing the end of the Red Wings’ playoff streak when the season ends in April.