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Inside The Numbers: Red Wings Are NHL Vultures

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Bad Red Wings
The Red Wings have gotten fat off beating bad NHL teams. They're 19-9-4 against the 15 non-playoff teams and 7-23-4 vs playoff clubs.

The Detroit Red Wings are vultures. There’s no other animal that parallels as closely to the way the Red Wings have performed this season than the infamous scavenger bird.

Detroit has fashioned its 26-32-8 record this season by picking the bones of the infirm, the weak and the woeful. When facing the challenge of staring down the NHL’s version of alpha males, the Wings respond like the timid creatures they are.

A breakdown of the data fashioned so far this season is revealing that the suspected Detroit first-half turnaround may have been nothing more than a mirage, a facade. Once the Wings began facing off against the NHL’s top teams with more frequency, things quickly were heading south for the team.

The numbers don’t like. This season, when facing the 16 NHL teams that currently occupy Stanley Cup playoff positions, the Red Wings succumb meekly. They are 7-23-4 against those teams. That works out to a .265 winning percentage.

Detroit Red Wings 2021-22 Breakdown

Opponent Record Winning% Goal Differential PP% PK%
Playoff Teams 7-23-4 .265            -65 14.8 65.0
Non-Playoff Teams 19-9-4 .656             +1 20.2 80.0

Some of those setbacks have proven to be utterly embarrassing. There was a 10-7 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. A 7-4 setback to those same Maple Leafs saw Detroit surrender five unanswered third-period goals while squandering a 4-2 lead.

In their last game, the Wings were shredded 11-2 by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“There’s certainly been ups and downs,” Red Wings forward Sam Gagner admitted. “They’re important games for us, measuring sticks. I think teams like that understand that they’re always gonna get the best of everyone that’s playing against them and that has to be our mentality going in trying to beat good teams.”

Red Wings Dismal On Special Teams

That may be the mentality but the reality is much simpler to decipher. Detroit’s performance when facing the NHL elite is simply nowhere near good enough. The Wings show just a 14.8% success rate on the power play against those 16 clubs.

Meanwhile, the penalty kill is only slightly above 60-40. The Wings are killing off just 65% of shorthanded situations in games against what would be playoff teams if the NHL season ended today. The Tampa Bay Lightning power play is clicking at 57.1% (8-for-14) in three games against Detroit. In two games facing the Calgary Flames, the Wings never scored a goal.

“We obviously have work to do to be amongst those types of teams,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “We ultimately gotta work extraordinarily hard, we gotta compete extraordinarily hard to have success right now against those kinds of teams.”

Detroit The Best Of A Bad Lot

To paraphrase the famous words engraved on the Statue Of Liberty, the Wings are really giving it to the NHL’s tired and poor and the league’s wretched refuse. Detroit is a solid 19-9-4 against the 15 NHL teams that would be missing out on postseason play if the season were over today. That works out to a .656% win rate.

Detroit’s power play is performing at 20.2% and the penalty kill at 80.0% in these games. The Wings are 4-0 against the Buffalo Sabres, 3-0 against the Philadelphia Flyers and 2-0 when facing the Vancouver Canucks.

That being said, the Wings aren’t always playing Charles Atlas when tangling with the NHL’s 98-pound weaklings. The Arizona Coyotes whipped the Wings 9-2 at Little Caesars Arena. Montreal outscored Detroit 11-4 while winning two of three games.

Tough Finish Ahead

Nine of Detroit’s final 16 games this season are against current playoff teams. They include home-and-home sets with the New York Rangers and the Atlantic Division-leading Florida Panthers. They also must visit Tampa Bay, Toronto and the Metropolitan Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes, while playing host to the red-hot Boston Bruins and the Penguins.

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It could get even uglier before it’s all said and done if the Wings can’t rediscover some semblance of the game they were playing prior to the New Year.

“There was optimism and we’re gonna have to find that again or else this last month . . . is gonna be miserable,” Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin said. “We gotta find the optimism, we gotta find a way to want to come to the rink and play hard and play better for each other and for our fans.”

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