Martin Hanzl, Radim Vrbata

Should the Detroit Red Wings be worried about their defense?

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When we revealed that the Vancouver Canucks were our (admittedly predictable) choice to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup finals, many readers wondered why we didn’t choose the Detroit Red Wings.

At first blush, their misgivings were understandable. After all, the Red Wings are the NHL’s gold standard franchise. While they lack the quantity of the Montreal Canadiens’ championship banners, there hasn’t been a better team in the last 20+ years. By just about any metric, they are unrivaled.

That being said, the Stanley Cup isn’t a lifetime achievement award. The league’s championship trophy is actually a bit rude in its “What have you done for me lately?” status. While the Red Wings rank among the top contenders to win it all, they aren’t without some weaknesses.

The one glaring, neon issue that plagues them in my eyes is their defense. People love to critique the work of Jimmy Howard, and while he’s not in the upper echelon of netminders, he’s been a stabilizing force at the goalie position.

Yet there’s one number that jumps out at me: 241 goals allowed. The Red Wings allowed the most goals of any of the 16 teams who made the playoffs and the eighth highest total overall. Their penalty kill fared just a bit better in the 2010-11 season, allowing 53 power-play goals, tied for 12th worst in the league.

Not a reason to panic, yet.

Now before you say it, there’s no denying the fact that they’ve also been explosive on offense. Only the Canucks scored more goals (262) than Detroit’s 261. The Red Wings’ +20 goal differential shows that they are a genuinely good team, something I agree with anyway.

So they’re able to beat up on the Phoenix Coyotes so far, but the ‘Yotes might be the ideal match for Detroit. Few – if any – teams will be able to shut down the Red Wings’ locomotive offense altogether anyway, but the Coyotes aren’t a squad who can exploit Detroit’s defensive weaknesses as much as others. Shane Doan lead Phoenix in scoring with just 60 points in 10-11, followed by defenseman Keith Yandle with 59. As great as Yandle is, it’s probably not a fantastic sign when a blueliner rests one point behind your top scorer.

What happens when the Red Wings run into an offense that rivals theirs, though? You can blame some iffy penalty calls for the Coyotes’ aborted comeback in Game 2, but will Detroit struggle to hold onto leads against higher level squads too?

Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski are showing their age after all.

Perhaps the greatest microcosm of the Red Wings’ stealthy weakness is their flagship defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. No one in their right mind would fault his overall game, especially considering his impressive 62 points this season. Yet even though it’s a bit of a shaky statistic at times, the team’s sliding defense might be best illustrated in their borderline infallible defenseman’s -2 rating, the first sub-zero mark of his incredible career. (Lidstrom also showed a steep decline in his Relative Corsi Rating, a more sophisticated defensive stat.)

Brian Rafalski’s numbers look a bit cleaner than Lidstrom’s, but both of the Red Wings’ best (yet aging) blueliners saw considerable drops in their average ice time. Rafalski’s time on ice went down four minutes per game while Lidstrom saw a drop of about two.

Less time on ice from those two outstanding, but aging defensemen means more time for less experienced and talented players. Niklas Kronwall produced a nice season (37 points, +5 rating), but I’m not quite as sold on Brad Stuart (20 points, +4 rating) even if he made his way onto James Mirtle’s top 30 defensive defensemen list. Both Kronwall and Stuart average more minutes per game than Rafalski, a discouraging trend.

Final thoughts

Now, I’m not saying that Detroit’s defense is awful. However, in the ruthlessly competitive West, I wonder if a slight weakness can turn into a glaring flaw. Howard is a nice goalie with flashes of brilliance, but his numbers indicate that he won’t win too many games for the Red Wings.

It looks like it might come down to seducing their opponents into trading offensive chances, then. That might work against conservative, low horsepower models like the Coyotes, but will they be able to keep up with the Ferraris of the NHL?

Let’s just say that if their season numbers are any indication, Henrik Zetterberg better be back by Round 2. (If they make it, naturally.)

Little-known Langhamer spurns Ducks comeback for Coyotes

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 14:  Ryan Getzlaf #15 of the Anaheim Ducks skates with the puck during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 14, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. The Ducks defeated the Coyotes 3-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Both of Monday’s games could have gone beyond regulation, yet the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks were left kicking themselves after failing to generate standings points.

In the case of the Ducks, they simply couldn’t overcome a lousy start to the Arizona Coyotes. They erased most of a 3-0 deficit but ultimately fell 3-2 on Monday.

Again, it was an ugly opening for Anaheim.

Randy Carlyle turned to John Gibson to start the second period and the red-hot goalie didn’t give up a goal; even so, his strong work wasn’t rewarded with anything but nice numbers.

Ryan Getzlaf scored both of Anaheim’s goals, including one with less than 30 seconds remaining in the third period and the Ducks’ net empty. You’d think that would be the end of the drama, but that wasn’t the case.

Mike Smith needed to leave the net during the third, likely because of a collision with Jakob Silfverberg. (Sounds like he’s OK, though.)

This forced Marek Langhamer to close out the game, meaning he had to deal with Anaheim’s endgame barrage. That included making quite the clutch stop against Sami Vatanen, spurning quite the attempt to tie:

Wow.

A quick primer on Langhamer: he was a seventh-round pick by the Coyotes (then Phoenix, 184th overall in 2012). He’s spent chunks of this season in both the AHL and ECHL, so this must be quite the moment for the 22-year-old.

As cool as that story is, the Ducks have to be kicking themselves. Instead of going ahead of the Edmonton Oilers for the second spot in the Pacific, both teams remain locked at 72 points (with Edmonton holding two games in hand).

Coyotes fans might have mixed feelings about the returns for Michael Stone, but beating their division rivals had to feel like a resounding win.

Yes, the Florida Panthers are indeed on fire

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  Michael Sgarbossa #48 of the Florida Panthers is congratulated after scoring a goal during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers are on a ridiculous roll right now. They’re even hotter than the also-quite-hot St. Louis Blues.

You could practically hear the air leave the building in St. Louis as Vincent Trocheck‘s goal made it 2-1 with just five seconds remaining in regulation. To little surprise, that ended up being the final score on Monday in what was otherwise quite the goaltending duel between James Reimer and Jake Allen.

The Panthers won all five games of what seemed to be a harrowing road trip on paper:

Feb. 11: 7-4 win against Predators
Feb. 15: 6-5 OT win against Sharks
Feb. 17: 4-1 win against Ducks
Feb. 18: 3-2 win vs. Kings
Tonight: 2-1 win over St. Louis

The Panthers now face a four-game homestand to close out February and also play seven of eight in Florida. (Actually, eight of nine, as they close out that run by visiting the Lightning on March 11).

Anyway, the Cats are in the catbird seat, and they finish the night back in front of the Boston Bruins for third in the Atlantic Division:

1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 GP
2. Senators: 68 in 57
3. Panthers – 66 in 58

Bruins – 66 in 59
Maple Leafs – 65 in 58
Sabres – 62 in 60
Lightning – 60 in 58
Red Wings – 58 in 59

As you can see, games in hand stand as Florida’s advantage over Boston, but with the Bruins holding the second wild card spot, the Panthers’ position in the playoff picture is clear (if vulnerable).

Again, it wasn’t like the Panthers outright dominated the Blues.

St. Louis and Florida both looked sharp in this one, but the Blues have lost two straight games in regulation after reeling off a six-game winning streak. With a ton of road games on the docket through the next month, the Blues will just need to keep fighting.

At least Mike Yeo has an easy team to point to in explaining how the Blues can overcome such challenges.

Video: Reimer, Allen shut down dangerous one-timers

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 09:  James Reimer #34 of the Florida Panthers makes a save during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on February 9, 2017 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In an ideal world, goalie equipment wouldn’t be such an issue. Teams would be able to “get goalies moving” with great passing and chances just about no one could stop.

Then again, there are also those saves that a select handful of humans can pull off. A big reason why there’s only been one goal between the Panthers and Blues tonight is the lateral movement shown by both James Reimer and Jake Allen.

First, watch as Reimer robs Jori Lehtera on what’s likely the save of the night:

Allen really hasn’t been that far behind Reimer, right down to making a similar stop:

Considering the two nearly identical one-timer goals scored by Arizona against Anaheim in finding seams for big passes through opposing defenses, tonight’s goalies might want to do some extra stretching during intermissions.

Dvorak, Coyotes put Ducks in early hole with slick goals (Video)

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 11:  Connor Murphy #5 (second from left) of the Arizona Coyotes celebrates with Alexander Burmistrov #91, Shane Doan #19 and Christian Dvorak #18 after Murphy scored the game winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on February 11, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Penguins 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes’ happy thoughts are mostly centered on the future. Christian Dvorak possibly being more than a guy who put up nice junior numbers with Matthew Tkachuk and Mitch Marner could fuel some really nice thoughts.

He’s been red-hot in February, in particular, including a goal already tonight as the Coyotes raced off to an early 2-0 lead against the Anaheim Ducks.

Check out that smooth play for his 10th goal of 2016-17:

Again, he’s been on quite the roll lately.

February: nine points (and counting?) in nine games
Rest of the season: 13 points in 45 games

He only had one assist in 12 January contests, so this outburst is even more unexpected than the Coyotes racing off to this lead.

Interestingly, the Coyotes two goals looked awfully similar, at least in the finish:

Randy Carlyle’s mood? Probably not too chipper right now.