By: Will Burchfield
Jeff Blashill is a big believer in process, because process dictates results. But the results can lie, and the Red Wings have been betrayed of late.
“In the end,” said Blashill following his team’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Panthers on Monday night, “that would be the story of the game, wouldn’t it? I thought we had real chances, I thought we made some good moves on them and we didn’t score.”
So it was on Saturday versus the Blues — a team never played so well in a 6-1 loss. Ultimately the Wings couldn’t solve Jake Allen, just as they were stumped by James Reimer on Monday. Sure, the opposing goalie can steal one every now and then, but the Red Wings have seemed complicit in a whole lot of theft this season. They make netminders look better than they are.
Blashill measures his team’s process primarily by scoring chances. In four of the Wings’ last five losses and eight of their 19 losses this season, they have out-chanced the opposition, per NaturalStatTrick.com. Their process has been sound, but the result hasn’t agreed.
Again, this happens in the NHL. Especially in today’s league, where goaltending is better than ever and teams are separated by razor-thin differences. But it happens with alarming frequency to the Red Wings, which begs a simple question: Do they have enough guys who can put the puck in the net?
“If we stay with the process of this, I think we have enough natural goal scorers, I do,” said Blashill. “So we’re going to have to bear down and stay with it.”
Detroit’s leading goal scorer is Anthony Mantha, who has 12 goals through 30 games and is on pace for about 32. In a three-way tie for second, with eight goals apiece, are Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Frans Nielsen. Nielsen is not a goal scorer by trade, and he’d be the first to admit that. Nyquist and Tatar might like to think they are, but their inability to convert golden chances suggests otherwise.
That leaves the likes of Martin Frk (six goals), Henrik Zetterberg (five), Andreas Athanasiou (five) and Dylan Larkin (four). The Red Wings’ two most natural goal scorers are probably Mantha and Athanasiou, in that order, and neither has proven a whole lot at the NHL level.
That’s why nights like Monday are so common.
“Here’s the biggest thing, and this is the hardest thing to do in life, is to trust in the process when you’re not getting results,” Blashill said. “For two games in a row we got tons of chances, we did tons of good things and we didn’t get results. … We continue to play that way, we’re going to get results. You have to trust that it’s going to happen over time.”
In theory, things should even out. In reality they probably won’t. The Red Wings don’t have the goal scorers to consistently make a good process matter.
“All we can do,” said Henrik Zetteberg, “is keep creating chances and make sure we’re a little more determined, maybe, when we get the chances.”
Is there help on the way? Evgeny Svechnikov, who certainly fits the goal scorer’s bill, is awaiting the call in Grand Rapids. But the 21-year-old seems to have taken a step back in his second AHL season with just two goals through 20 games. (He scored 20 goals in 74 games last year.) After Svechnikov, the offensive pipeline is still pretty bare.
Following a loss, the general sentiment in the Red Wings’ dressing room this season has been frustration. Not anger, not shame, not really even disappointment. The players often know they’ve done enough to win. But it’s frustrating as hell to walk away empty-handed, to lose something you know you deserve, especially when there isn’t a clear fix in sight.
If the results continue to lie, how much longer can the process be trusted?