Watch CBS News

Why Red Wings Look Doomed 12 Games Into The Season

By Will Burchfield
Twitter @burchie_kid

DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) - Hockey is not determined by statistics. It's not decided on spreadsheets by metrics like Corsi, Fenwick and PDO. It's a battle waged on the ice, between human beings, with results that don't always align with the advanced evidence.

And that's a good thing for the Red Wings because – yikes – based on the early statistics, this team looks doomed.

Of the various metrics that track team performance, the most reliable barometer for future success is five-on-five Corsi. It's a measure of a team's differential in shot attempts at even strength and, in this way, a proxy for puck possession.

In the last five years, 22 of the 25 teams that finished in the top five in five-on-five Corsi (care for a high-five?) made the playoffs – including the Stanley Cup winner each season. Of those that finished in the bottom five, all but five missed the playoffs.

So, yeah: five-on-five Corsi draws a pretty clear line between good teams and bad teams.

Twelve games into the season, the Red Wings are dead last in five-on-five Corsi. They check in at 44.7 percent, meaning that far less than half of the even-strength shot attempts per game belong to the Wings.

That's reflected in the more conventional numbers, too. Detroit's allowing 33.0 shots per game, the fifth most in the league, while taking just 28.5, the eighth least. Strong goaltending, particularly by nominal backup Jimmy Howard, has kept the Wings afloat, but this team is flirting with fire.

And it's only a matter of time before it burns them.

"We're giving up too many chances against, too many shots against, and if you're doing that every night you're just not going to win," said Mark Howe, Detroit's director of pro scouting.

The Wings' ugliest performance this season in terms of five-on-five Corsi came against the New York Rangers (Oct. 19). Detroit surrendered 56 even-strength shot attempts while totaling just 34 of their own, a differential that translates to 38 percent. The Wings won the game, thanks to 32 saves by Howard, but it was as flawed a victory as you'll find.

"I was at our game in New York and I just couldn't believe how badly we played. Realistically, it should have been 8-1," Howe said. "The Rangers are an excellent hockey club, but no matter how great a team is, in today's game of parity, you should not be in a situation where you're going to be losing 10-1. It just should not happen."

It was a game emblematic of Detroit's season. The Wings have managed 13 points through 12 games, largely in spite of themselves.

Fortunately, Howard and Petr Mrazek have been a collective bright spot. They have a combined five-on-five save percentage of .953, the third best mark in the league. Whether that's sustainable remains to be seen. (Hint: it isn't.) Howard's career high in five-on-five save percentage is .940; Mrazek's is .931.

"The thing is, our goaltending's been so good, I don't see it being that good all year long. It's kind of impossible," Howe said. "So the team in front of the goalie needs to be better."

It's generally accepted that the Red Wings aren't an elite club. General manager Ken Holland, coach Jeff Blashill and captain Henrik Zetterberg have all said so themselves. Their goal is to make the playoffs, with the belief being that, from there, anything can happen.

But the Wings don't look like a team destined for the postseason.

"From what I've seen so far, I would say we're not playing well enough right now to get in the playoffs," said Howe, prior to Detroit's loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night, their fourth straight defeat. "Our goaltending has absolutely been excellent, but our team play – and it's not just our defense – our team play has not been consistent enough.

"And when you don't play consistent you'll end up, like right now, in a three-game losing streak. One game we couldn't score, one game we were tired and we let the last game get away. If you want to make the playoffs you can't afford to lose those kind of points."

And you can't afford to play the way the Wings have so far.

Only two playoff teams in the past five years – an 80-team sample – have posted a five-on-five Corsi lower than the Wings' current mark of 44.7 percent. Both of them, Toronto (2012-13) and Calgary (2014-15), lost in the first round.

At this rate, it'd be a shock to see the Wings get that far. Thankfully they have 71 games to turn it around.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.