Cloudy forecast at halfway point for Wings
DETROIT — In a lockout-shortened season, things can change quickly for every team, including the Detroit Red Wings.
Now that they’ve passed the midway point of the season — 26 games into a compressed, 48-game schedule — let’s take a look at where they stand before they head out on the road.
Things were looking pretty good before this past weekend. The Wings were in a successful stretch during which they’d gone 5-1-1.
Then they encountered the Columbus Blue Jackets who, for whatever reason, have given the Wings fits this season.
After being shut out, 3-0, Saturday in Columbus and then beaten in a shootout, 3-2, Sunday at Joe Louis Arena, the Wings were feeling a little deflated. They lost the season series to the Blue Jackets, 1-3-1.
“It felt like we had a good thing going there for a couple weeks, then the two games here, back-to-back against Columbus, we didn’t perform as close as to where we were before that,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “They play a game that I guess we couldn’t handle.
“They were tough on us, and we couldn’t really get to the net and get anything dangerous around their net.”
Captain Henrik Zetterberg admitted that both the Wings and the Blue Jackets had played a lot of games this past week and might have hit a lull.
“Before these two games, we were on a bit of a roll,” Zetterberg said. “We had been playing better. In Columbus, we didn’t play good. We played better (Sunday), and it was a step forward compared to (Saturday).
“We’ve been up and down. When we’re doing the right things, we play well. We just have to keep doing that. We’re going to have a tough stretch here, and our record on the road has to be better.”
Ah, yes, the road, where the Wings are 3-5-2 so far this season. No current team in the top 10 in the Western Conference has fewer road wins.
“It’s definitely going to be tough,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “There’s no excuses because we’re going out on the road. We’ve got to find a way to get dirty wins.”
With 14 of their last 22 games are on the road, including seven of the next eight, the Wings will have an opportunity to improve that record.
“We needed to win the home game,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We got lots of road games. Bottom line is, there’s nothing we can do about this now. Feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to you anything. We need the points.
“Ideally, we’ll get a break and get Fil (Valtteri Filppula) back this week and then I’m hoping to get Helmer (Darren Helm) back. I think that can really give us a boost.”
Filppula has missed the last seven games with a shoulder injury. Before that, he had four goals and six assists in 19 games.
With his spectacular speed and skill set, Filppula needs to be able to produce more when he gets healthy.
The Wings have definitely missed Helm’s speed this season. He’s played in just one game because of a back injury he suffered while lifting weights in the offseason.
If Filppula and Helm are able to return soon, that will help take pressure off of Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who have played more than they should have, particularly on the penalty kill.
The penalty kill is one area that the Wings have improved. They’re ranked 19th overall, killing 79 percent of their opponents’ power plays. But their penalty kill is only 70.7 percent on the road, compared to 84.8 percent at home.
The Wings’ power play is absolutely Jekyll and Hyde.
At home, it’s pretty good, connecting on 22.1 percent of their chances, ninth in the league. It couldn’t be any worse on the road. The Wings are the only team in the league that hasn’t scored a road power-play goal (0-36).
But despite what felt like a lost weekend, the Wings did get one point, which put them in fourth place in the Western Conference with 29 points.
“That moves us up, actually, in the standings, unless who knows whatever else is going on throughout the league right now,” Howard said.
Therein lies the rub. Aside from the Chicago Blackhawks (45 points), who finally lost a game in regulation, and the Anaheim Ducks (39 points), most of the teams in the Western Conference are bunched very closely together.
In fifth place, the Los Angeles Kings have played three fewer games than the Wings and have 28 points. In sixth place, the Vancouver Canucks have 28 points in 24 games. In seventh place, the San Jose Sharks have 28 points in 24 games. In eighth place, the St. Louis Blues have 28 points in 25 games.
Closing in are the Phoenix Coyotes, with 27 points in 25 games; the Dallas Stars, with 26 points in 24 games; the Nashville Predators, with 26 points in 25 games; the Colorado Avalanche, with 24 points in 24 games; the Blue Jackets, with 24 points in 26 games.
Even 14th-place Edmonton and 15th-place Calgary are still in striking distance, with 23 and 22 points, respectively.
“You see how tight the standings are, so every little point and every little goal is important,” Ericsson said. “We know that.”
The Wings know it. Now they have to do something about it.