Red Wings’ struggles show no signs of slowing down

DETROIT—The Detroit Red Wings came into the season intending to shock.

And while they have managed to do just that, it hasn’t been as they desired.

Ten games into the season the Wings are struggling even more than anticipated for a team that made minor changes in the off-season. A 3-1 start segued into a six-game losing streak. They went into Ottawa on Wednesday needing “two points in the worst way possible,” as Dylan Larkin put it, only to play their worst game yet, against the team with the worst record in the NHL.

They return for a three-game home stand that begins Friday against the Buffalo Sabres (8-1-1), continues Sunday against the defending champion St. Louis Blues Sunday and ends in a rematch with the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.

The Wings were off Thursday after playing back-to-back games. News on the injury status of defenceman Danny DeKeyser, who was not available Wednesday, and forward Luke Glendening, who appeared to hurt a hand in Ottawa, should be available at Friday’s morning skate.

The Wings spoke in September of how last season’s 7-3 finish had instilled confidence they were a better team than deemed by oddsmakers, who picked them to finish near the bottom of the NHL. It hasn’t happened.

Here are the biggest areas of disappointment:

  • The penalty kill has been baffling, operating at 71.9 per cent compared to 80.5 per cent last season at this point. Patrik Nemeth is a good shot blocker, and DeKeyser, Glendening and Filip Hronek are willing to get into the path of a puck, too. But the kill has allowed nine goals in the 32 times the Wings have been short-handed. Seven of those goals have come during the six-game losing skid.

One key difference is Darren Helm, who averaged more than two minutes per game on the penalty kill last season, but has been taken off the penalty kill this season in favour of Jacob de la Rose and Christoffer Ehn.

The power play has seen the biggest drop-off compared to last season when it was at 25 per cent after 10 games. It went 0-for-5 in Wednesday’s 5-2 loss at Ottawa to drop to 12.1 per cent, having converted four times on 33 opportunities.

Anthony Mantha has three of those goals, Dennis Cholowski has one. The only players with points on the power play are Mantha, Cholowski and Taro Hirose with three each, and Andreas Athanasiou, Hronek and Tyler Bertuzzi each with one.

  • The depth behind the first line of Larkin, Mantha and Bertuzzi has been troubling. After 10 games, Mantha leads the Wings with seven goals and 11 points, Bertuzzi ranks first with six assists and second with 10 points, and Larkin is third with seven points. The only other line that has factored in offensively is de la Rose, Helm and Justin Abdelkader. Helm scored one of his four goals during a brief stint on the top line, but otherwise the fourth line has combined for four goals among 11 points.

The Wings average 2.3 goals per game, marginally better than their 2.1 average last season at this point. The scoring, though, was more spread out last season — six players had at least five points compared to three this season; 12 players last season had at least three points compared to eight this season.

Athanasiou, Frans Nielsen and Filppula have been notably quiet. Athanasiou’s skill set is too good to have only two points, both assists, in eight games. He can create chances because of his ability to accelerate out of nowhere. Nielsen has no points after seven games. He played with Ehn and forward Adam Erne to start the season, neither of whom have much offence in their history. Nielsen may be the Wing who misses Thomas Vanek (who was not brought back) more than anyone, as the two, along with Athanasiou, had excellent chemistry. Filppula has two points after 10 games, and that’s while averaging 2:15 per game on the power play.

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  • The Wings’ defensive play has been, well … this was the area new general manager Steve Yzerman addressed in the off-season, signing Nemeth and forward Valtteri Filppula and then trading for Erne. Nemeth and Filppula both have a reputation as defenders. But the improvement has been negligible — a 3.8-goals-allowed average compared to 4.0 last season after 10 games. Opponents have scored five goals in five of the past six games. Shots-wise, the Wings have allowed an average of 35.3 per game this season, compared to 34.7 last season.

Goaltenders Jonathan Bernier (2-3, .902 save percentage and 3.23-goals-against average) and Jimmy Howard (1-4, .898, 3.88) don’t have pretty numbers but for the most part have played well. Howard was outstanding in the season opener at Nashville, and Bernier was excellent at Montreal and at Edmonton.

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