The Detroit Red Wings pride themselves on a consistency that has captured the last eight Central Division titles, but a 2-0 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday has left them in unfamiliar territory. A fourth defeat in five games is a clear sign that the team are struggling in offence and, with only five goals tallied during that period, they find themselves sitting fourth in the division and outside the play-off places.
The Thrashers netminder Ondrej Pavelec added to Detroit's frustration by stopping all 40 shots fired at him as the Red Wings were shut out for the first time this season. "We all got to be better," said the Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "Right now it's staying out for us, it's easy to become frustrated but that's a waste of energy and doesn't do anybody any good. To me that is just counter productive.
"Just stay with it and good things will happen." Certainly there is not yet any panic in the Red Wings locker room; the team having weathered many slumps and scoring droughts over a decade of success. For a record nine consecutive seasons, the Red Wings have enjoyed 100-point seasons and won more than 50 games in the last four, but with 11 wins from their opening 23 contests they will be hard pressed to make it five in a row. And something that may set the alarm bells ringing is the fact that the Red Wings, who have reached the post-season for a North American professional sports record 18 years in a row, are sitting outside a play-off berth.
However, the long NHL season is still in its infancy and the standings in both the division and the Western Conference are so tight that even a modest winning streak could launch the Red Wings up the rankings. A growing injury list and inconsistent goaltending have contributed to the Detroit slide, but it the lack of scoring that is causing the greatest concern in "Hockeytown". "I had a lot of chances. I should score, I should score some goals," said Henrik Zetterberg, the Wings' leading scorer with nine goals and 24 points.
"It's not good enough. We have our chances, we just have to be more sure to get the puck behind the goalie. We get our chances we have to finish it off. "We just have to score goals." Atlanta's Nik Antropov scored the only goal of the opening period before Slava Kozlov doubled the lead in the second during a power-play. The two-goal margin was more than enough of a cushion for Pavelec, who collected his second career shutout.
A sign of what the Red Wings are missing came when Marian Hossa scored twice on his debut as the Chicago Blackhawks thrashed the San Jose Sharks 7-2. Hossa, who signed a 12-year, US$62.8 million (Dh230m) contract with Chicago in the summer after scoring 40 goals for Detroit last year, had not played since last season because of a shoulder surgery. "I was just trying to get into game shape and trying to make good plays," Hossa said.
"Everybody played a great game and my shoulder felt fine. I took a couple of hits and it was OK." The win was Chicago's eighth in a row and moved them within two points of the Sharks at the top of the Western Conference. The Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 2-0 despite losing star forward Alex Ovechkin, who opened the scoring, to a game misconduct penalty for boarding five minutes into the third period.
"You lose the most prolific scorer on the planet Earth, which is tough," said the Washington defence Brian Pothier. "But you have to kill a five-minute penalty. As Ovie's skating off the ice, we're telling him, 'We've got this one for you'. He does so much for our team. Every night, he bails us out. We could sure do it for him." * With agencies