The Detroit Red Wings have put together a nice little string of wins very late in a losing season. Since being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on March 12th against the Montreal Canadiens, the Wings have played six games, largely against playoff teams, and gone 4-2-0.
“We’ve continued to compete here even when we’re out of it,” Jeff Blashill said to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press after their recent win against the Vegas Golden Knights. “We’ve talked about that, having pride in ourselves and make sure we work and compete and build for a better future, and to do that, you have to show up every single night.”
Certainly, the idea of tanking in the final games of the season is far from anyone’s mind. Anyone with an inch of competitiveness in their bones knows that losing is no fun, whether it means anything in the bigger picture or not. Right now, the Red Wings are playing for pride, honor, and each other. And that’s the right way to go about it.
The thing is though, they’re winning despite themselves. Over the course of those six games, they have been out-shot 219-154 (179-125 at 5-on-5) and posted a 5-on-5 shot attempt percentage of 41.52%, which is the worst in the league across that time span. Plus, all of their wins have only been by a single goal and one of them required overtime.
They’ve mostly been bailed out by solid goaltending, with Jimmy Howard (2-1-0 record, .919 save percentage) and Jonathan Bernier (2-1-0 record, .917 save percentage) playing out of their minds and pucks finding their way into the opposing team’s net. Their 11.04 shooting percentage is two points higher across those six games vs. the rest of the season.
None of this is to say there aren’t any positives to take away from this stretch of games. There are many. For one, the young guys are getting a stage to show they can carry a team with all of the injuries to veteran players. Andreas Athanasiou has been fire with five goals and two assists over the six game span and Dylan Larkin seems to have returned to form after struggling with an injury, with a beautiful goal and assist combo in the last two games. Both are flirting with the 30-goal mark, something no Red Wings player has done since the 2008-09 season.
Then there’s Taro Hirose who jumped into the mix four games ago when the NCAA season wrapped up. He’s recorded an assist in every game so far, gaining enough trust from the coaching staff to play him an average of 14:53 per game.
Finally, there’s Filip Hronek who, despite an increased workload that’s seen him get over 20 minutes of ice time per game, has maintained a 50% shot attempt percentage while he’s on the ice at 5-on-5. That’s the best shot attempt percentage among team defensemen and no, he’s not starting the majority of his shifts in the offensive zone.
All this to say there are a lot of positives to take away from this latest stretch of games, but let’s not fool ourselves in thinking the Red Wings are suddenly a better team without the likes of Mike Green, Jacob De La Rose, and Trevor Daley in the lineup. The underlying stats are consistent with the rest of the season, they are just getting good bounces and solid play from their goaltenders. It actually says quite a bit about the players who are injured and their corresponding cap hits, but that’s a different topic for a different day.
Still, a win is a win and winning does wonders for a professional athlete’s confidence. If there’s one thing the Red Wings need more of after this disappointing season, it’s a positive morale and a reason to work hard. Whether or not they actually have a shot at making the playoffs next year, the players need to believe they do. And if you work hard enough at playing up to the level you believe you can be at, you never know what could happen.
The Red Wings could make the playoffs next year. Stranger things have happened. But I wouldn’t bet my money on it based on their latest stretch of games. They still have a long, rocky road ahead of them.
But don’t worry. There will be some wins sprinkled in.