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State of the Red Wings: Goaltending absent during seven-game losing streak

With a 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Monday night, the Detroit Red Wings tied their longest losing streak this season at seven games.

And while this current losing streak hasn’t seen a game as bad as the 10-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 2 that ended the previous seven-game losing streak, this stretch of games probably has been just as frustrating for the Red Wings.

Detroit hasn’t won a game since trading Tomas Tatar to the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 26. While Tatar’s absence slightly explains the Red Wings’ woes (he had a relative shot attempts percentage of 2 with the Red Wings, good for fifth best on the team), it doesn’t fully explain why they’ve struggled to notch a win the past two weeks.

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With the loss of Tatar, Tyler Bertuzzi has been a benefactor of the extra ice time, which went from 14:36 on Feb. 28 against the St. Louis Blues to 19:27 on Monday against the Sharks.

Bertuzzi has been producing points-wise, with seven assists during the seven-game losing streak, but his possession numbers haven’t been great (43.99 score-adjusted 5 on 5 shot attempts percentage and a -5.58 relative shot attempts percentage). Obviously, Bertuzzi has less than 50 NHL games under his belt and he will be prone to making mistakes and losing possession battles. His increased ice time isn’t why the Red Wings are losing.

The biggest reason for the Red Wings’ struggles has been goaltending.

Since Petr Mrazek was traded Feb. 19, Jimmy Howard has started nine of the team’s past 11 games, including relieving Jared Coreau after he allowed four goals on 16 shots March 6 against the Boston Bruins.

In the four games before the losing streak, Howard had a 0.929 save percentage (0.942 at 5 on 5) and two quality starts. Quality starts is a stat developed by Rob Vollman to measure whether a goaltender “gave his team a chance to win.” In order to record a quality start, a goalie must have a single-game save percentage above the league average (0.913) or have a save percentage better than a replacement-level goalie (0.885) while allowing two or fewer goals.

So, Howard had quality starts in a win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 24 and a win against the New York Rangers on Feb. 25 but did not record a quality start in a loss to the Nashville Predators on Feb. 20 and an overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 22.

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Since the losing streak started on Feb. 28, Howard has a 0.894 save percentage (0.902 at 5 on 5) and just one quality start in five games started (a 2-1 loss to the Blues).

In three of those four other starts, Howard had a single-game save percentage of less than 0.900.

Coreau hasn’t fared much better. As mentioned earlier, he was lit up against the Boston Bruins, but he managed to record a quality start in a 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday (.917 save percentage).

Interestingly enough, the Red Wings’ expected goals numbers have been better during this losing streak than during the rest of the season.

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On the season, their 5 on 5 expected goals percentage is 48.12, according to Corsica. During the losing streak, that number jumps to 50.27. The Red Wings have scored 12 goals and allowed 18 at 5 on 5 during the losing streak, but their expected goals for and goals against are 13.63 and 13.49, respectively, further showing the lack of quality goaltending. Their PDO also drops to 97 during the losing streak compared to 99.71 during the season, also suggesting some unluckiness.

In addition to spotty goaltending, the Red Wings have lost the possession battle in every game during the losing streak except the St. Louis game. As you can see in the chart below by Sean Tierney, Detroit’s five-game 5 on 5 shot attempts rolling average has been dropping since the trade deadline.

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Red Wings 5-game CF% rolling average. (Chart by Sean Tierney)

On the season, the Red Wings have a score-adjusted 5 on 5 shot attempts percentage of 48.30, which is 22nd in the league. During this losing streak, that number drops to 47.84, which is 23rd in the league.

Goaltending is the biggest issue during the Red Wings’ slide, but there also are a couple of minor issues that have plagued the team during the past two weeks.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise stated.