By: Will Burchfield
You can question Jeff Blashill on a number of levels.
You can question his line combinations, his distribution of playing time and his development of young talent. Heck, you can question his qualifications as an NHL coach.
But you certainly can’t question his faith in the Red Wings captain. Despite Detroit’s bleak outlook – ten points out of a playoff spot with 21 games to go – Blashill is confident Henrik Zetterberg will lead the team back to the promised land.
That’s quite the proclamation, but it’s not hard to see where Blashill is coming from. The 36-year-old Zetterberg has turned back the clock this season, and especially so of late. He leads the team in scoring with 48 points in 61 games, including seven points in the past four games and 17 in the past 14.
Of course, over the latter span, the Wings are 5-7-2. Zetterberg can only carry them so far.
Still, Detroit isn’t out of things yet. So let’s take a look at the team’s (pothole-riddled, barricade-laden, all-but-impossible) path to the playoffs.
The Islanders, occupying the second wild card, are on pace for 92.5 points. The Bruins, occupying third place in the Atlantic, are on pace for 92.25 points. So let’s put the magic number for a playoff spot at 93 points.
To get there, the Wings would need to rack up 33 points in their final 21 games. Here, then, are the various ways in which they can finish:
If there’s one thing working in Detroit’s favor, it’s a relatively forgiving schedule down the stretch. Of their final 21 games, 11 will come against teams below .500, including nine in an 11-game stretch from March 15 to April 1. If they’re going to make a push, it will have to come then.
But forget all that, and realize this. Amid Detroit’s struggles, Zetterberg’s greatness has risen to the fore.
On a team with a negative-27 scoring differential, Zetterberg is a plus-nine. On a team that’s deep in the red in terms of possession (48.1 percent five-on-five Corsi), Zetterberg is one of the few players who’s in the black (50.7 percent). And on a team that’s starved for offense, Zetterberg is on pace for 64 points, 14 more than he had last year.
Oh, and the 14-year vet is playing 19:29 a night and hasn’t missed a game all season.
The Wings are an extreme long shot to make the playoffs, but it’s hard to blame Blashill for believing his captain can defy the odds.