Martin Hanzl, Radim Vrbata

Should the Detroit Red Wings be worried about their defense?


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.)

After nearly being a healthy scratch, Matt Dumba has found his game

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 16:  Matt Dumba #24 of the Minnesota Wild lines up for a faceoff against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on October 16, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Wild defenseman Matt Dumba was supposed to be a healthy scratch in last Thursday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but that never happened.

He ended up playing in that game because Marco Scandella (illness) couldn’t suit up.

Going into that tilt, Dumba had one goal and a minus-2 rating in three contests and just hadn’t been playing well enough in head coach Bruce Boudreau’s eyes.

Since the near scratching, Dumba has turned things around significantly. Boudreau has trusted him to take injured defenseman Jared Spurgeon‘s spot on the top pairing with Ryan Suter and that has resulted in a serious boost in ice time (he’s played 23, 26 and 26 minutes in the last three games).

“I didn’t like it,” said the 22-year-old, per the Minneapolis StarTribune. “I took it in a way that if I got back in the lineup I was never going to let that happen again. That’s the kind of motivation that I have. Just pride as a player. I hold myself to a higher standard.”

Dumba, who was the seventh overall pick in 2012, has contributed at the NHL level over the last couple of seasons, but he’s yet to take that next step as a big-minute, top pairing defenseman. Maybe his new head coach will be the one to get the most out of him.

PHT Morning Skate: This artist paints a picture while singing the national anthem

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–Artist Joe Everson  paints an amazing picture while singing the national anthem prior to an ECHL game. (Top)

–Is Patrice Bergeron the greatest defensive forward of all-time? (The Hockey News)

–Caps rookie Zach Sanford sang “Sweet Caroline” during the team’s Halloween party. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

–This goalie makes his AHL debut and he was backed up by…his father! (NHL)

Auston Matthews‘ Halloween costume had a political twist. (The Score)

–10 NHL players that still don’t look right in their new uniforms. (Bardown)

Report: Ducks put Despres on long-term injured reserve

FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2015, file photo, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Simon Despres skates before an NHL preseason hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. Despres has agreed to a five-year contract extension with the Ducks on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, solidifying his role in Anaheim after joining the club in a trade last season. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)
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Simon Despres has played only once this season, back on Oct. 13, due to injury.

It now appears the Anaheim Ducks don’t see the 25-year-old defenseman returning to their lineup any time soon.

On Sunday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported on Twitter that the Ducks placed Despres, who carries an average annual value of $3.7 million, on long-term injured reserve, providing Anaheim with some flexibility in the salary cap situation.

By placing Despres on LTIR, it’s been suggested this could possibly allow the Ducks to sign restricted free agent defenseman Hampus Lindholm.

Lindholm, 22, missed training camp, instead deciding to stay in Sweden while he awaits a deal with the Ducks. Six games into Anaheim’s season, and still no deal.

It was reported last month that Lindholm was seeking a deal of eight years, and at least $6 million per season.

Last week, on TSN’s Insider Trading, McKenzie suggested the two sides could be about $250,000, annually, apart. He also added that there is a “cap hit penalty” when restricted free agents don’t get signed before the season begins.

“For every day that (Lindholm) is not signed in this season, the cap hit for the team will increase by about $30,000 if he were to agree to a $5.5 million deal,” McKenzie reported.

“Let’s say he agrees to a deal that’s $5.5 million AAV, well the cap hit’s going to be up around $5.8 (million) as of now, for each day that goes on.”

Comeback Canucks? Not against the Ducks

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 23:  Alexander Edler #23 and Philip Larsen #63 of the Vancouver Canucks look on after Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks reacts to scoring a goal during the third  period of a game at Honda Center on October 23, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Vancouver Canucks have made a habit of third-period comebacks early this season. Playing with the lead, though? Not so much.

Despite their early penchant for late-game magic — certainly not a sustainable method of winning in the long-term — the Canucks were unable to score a come-from-behind win against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.

Instead, they lost 4-2, as Nick Ritchie and Corey Perry scored late in the third period to nullify any chance of a Vancouver comeback.

Henrik Sedin had gotten the Canucks back into a tied game early in the final period, before the Ducks killed off a Vancouver power play and then surged ahead for good.

It’s Vancouver’s first regulation loss of the season. In six games, the Canucks have played with the lead only once.

Really, the score flattered the Canucks, playing the second half of a back-to-back set in California. The Ducks dominated possession, but goalie Ryan Miller kept the Canucks in it until late in regulation.

The Canucks are now 4-1-1. That’s still a good start, but there have been signs lately that they could soon be served a reality check.


Meanwhile, the Ducks have won two in a row after losing their first four games to start the season.

It was promising that their best players were their best players in Anaheim’s home opener.

Ryan Getzlaf had three assists. Corey Perry had an assist on the winner and scored to put this one away. Defenseman Cam Fowler, who has been at the center of trade speculation in the past few months, scored Sunday and is now up to three goals, with points in four of six games.

“He’s played great,” Getzlaf recently told the Orange County Register. “Cam put a lot on his shoulders last year. He had a great year for us last year and it gets overlooked a little bit because he does it in a little bit quieter way. He’s not flashy.

“I thought his play has carried over from last year. He’s continued to play the same way and at a high level.”

This win puts the Ducks within a point of the San Jose Sharks. The two California rivals face each other Tuesday in San Jose.