The streak is officially in jeopardy.
24 seasons and possibly counting, the Detroit Red Wings’ playoff run is currently the longest in major professional sports. But it is a tenuous situation in 2016, with the hard-charging Philadelphia Flyers making a postseason absence a real possibility in Motown.
The way the Red Wings have been playing, missing the party might not be such a terrible thing.
There is a legitimate possibility that it is wearing on the minds of the players (it is undoubtedly weighing on the minds of the fans). The Wings have been leaking some serious oil of late, and there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that they could upset a top-notch team like the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, or Florida Panthers in the opening round.
For one of hockey’s most successful and historic franchises, a playoff miss could light a fire under a club that has been teetering on the brink in recent years. During their last six postseason trips, the Wings have won a total of three series, and none the last two years. Their minus-13 goal differential is worse than the eight teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference (only the Flyers also have a negative scoring differential, at minus-3).
Hitting the reset button could be a fresh start. Consider that the 2015-16 squad ranks in the bottom half of the NHL in a number of key statistical categories: goals per game, power play percentage, penalty killing percentage, and save percentage. The last of those classifications falls squarely on the sub par play of both Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard. The former was pulled in the second quarter of Saturday’s unsightly, 7-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins; the latter was yanked early in last week’s 6-2 loss in Tampa Bay. Mrazek has looked extremely shaky in the month of March, to say the least.
Detroit is in its first year AB — After Babcock. Mike Babcock bolted for Toronto, and to a certain extent the team has lacked the same toughness under new head coach Jeff Blashill. A talented roster with the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Dylan Larkin, Tomas Tatar, and Pavel Datsyuk is not quite living up to expectations. The Wings do not have a single player in the top 40 in the NHL in points or goals. Datsyuk and Zetterberg have 45 points each to tie for the club lead, while Larkin tops the list with 21 goals.
It truly might be better for a team with no real title aspirations to sit this one out. It’s been nearly two-and-a-half decades, and it could spark a turnaround next season, the final one to be played at Joe Louis Arena.
These are not your father’s Red Wings. They aren’t even your older brother’s Red Wings. The streak is in jeopardy. And that might not be such a bad thing.