Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk, left, has 13 goals and 28 assists for 41 points in 43 games this season. At that pace, he'd have 24 goals and 52 points in a regular 82-game season. Captain Henrik Zetterberg, who has nine goals and 29 assists for 38 points in 42 games, would be on pace to score 17 goals and 54 points in a full season. (David Guralnick/Detroit News)
Detroit -- Four games left for the Red Wings to try to make the playoffs for a 22nd consecutive season, and if they pick up their offense even slightly, beginning tonight with three consecutive home games, they just might make it.
If they cannot score a couple more goals, here and there, they might well head home at the end of a regular season for the first time since 1989-90.
Their captain, Henrik Zetterberg, was 9 years old then.
Steve Yzerman, their captain then, was 24.
The Wings clearly are in better shape than when they yielded the initiative with an ugly loss in Calgary on Wednesday.
Thanks to the point they earned in a shootout loss to the Canucks on Saturday and the Blues beating the Stars on Friday, the Wings control their own fate, once again.
If they win all four games, they make the playoffs. If not, they will need help from other teams.
The Wings are three points behind the Blue Jackets with two games in hand and tied with the Stars with a game in hand. On Sunday night, the Blue Jackets won and the Stars lost to the Kings in overtime.
The Wings play the Coyotes tonight, the Kings on Wednesday and the Predators on Thursday before going on the road against the Stars on Saturday.
The Wings are 1-1 against the Coyotes, Kings and Stars and 2-0-1 against the Predators.
An ingredient lacking through 44 games, which would make running the table far easier, is a more robust offense.
While a defensive decline was expected when they lost Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart and Brian Rafalski, three of their top six defensemen, in two years, the loss of the offensive abilities of Lidstrom and Rafalski arguably have been of greater consequence.
If they can muster just a small increase in scoring, their goaltending and defensive play should deliver the final playoff spot.
"We'd like to be solid defensively, and continue that way," Mike Babcock said last week. "But we'd like to generate more offense."
Despite costly hiccups by Jimmy Howard and on defense in Calgary on Wednesday, Howard usually has been among the best Red Wings this season, and the young and largely new blue line generally has been reliable.
Last season, the Wings yielded 2.43 goals per game. This year, it is 2.44.
But, last season they scored 2.95 per game. This season, it is 2.43.
And the offense is ebbing, even as they have dropped in the standings.
In 10 games since March 30, the Red Wings are 2-4-4. They scored 19 goals.
In the previous 10, March 9-30, the Wings were 5-4-1. They scored 24.
In the previous 10, from Feb. 17 to March 8, they were 5-3-2. They scored 28.
In the previous 10, from Jan. 27 to Feb. 17, their record was identical, 5-3-2, and so were their goals, 28.
Less offense from the defenseman is part of the problem. Rafalski joined Lidstrom as among the best offensive defenders.
Particularly when exiting and entering the defensive and offensive zones, the Wings miss them both.
It might be part of the reason some forwards are having comparatively unproductive years.
But some of the decline is on them.
Of the top seven in points this season, Pavel Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen, Damien Brunner, Valtteri Filppula and Daniel Cleary, only Datsyuk and Cleary would have more goals this year than last year — extrapolating for an 82-game season.
Scoring at their current rates, Datsyuk would have 24 goals and Cleary 17 in an 82-game season.
Zetterberg would score 17, five fewer than last season. Kronwall would score nine, six fewer than last season.
Franzen would score 19, 10 fewer than last season although the much maligned forward would finish with 49 assists, 22 more.
Brunner, in his first season, would score 21. But Jiri Hudler scored 25 last season, and he now plays in Calgary.
Filppula would score 13 this year after scoring 23 last year.
It is a sharp fall-off for Filppula, an unrestricted free agent whom the Red Wings have offered in trades the past two seasons.
While he admits his performance is off, it also is true Filppula missed seven games with injuries this season after starting with a sore knee the 29-year-old forward rehabilitated after an injury while playing in Europe during the lockout. Last season, he played in all but one game.
Meanwhile, Todd Bertuzzi remains injured and has two goals in just seven games played this year.
The Wings cling to hope Bertuzzi could return this week. His need to play himself back into shape should discourage the notion he will return ablaze with offensive energy.
But Bertuzzi is missed for more than his size, esprit d'corps and offense. He has raised his approach to shoot-out goals to an art form almost comparable to Datsyuk's wizardry, in what is essentially a skills competition that determines victory in 12-15 percent of games every season.
In his career, Bertuzzi has scored on 37.2 percent of shootout chances, since it was instituted in 2005-06. He has 16 shootout goals, and is 42nd among players all-time.
The 2013 Red Wings have declined sharply in the shootout.
Last season, they won nine of 12 and scored on 37.5 percent of their shots.
They are 2-5 this year with a 21.7 scoring rate.
Bertuzzi's return might pay more early dividends in the shootout.
But he also provides both motivation and comfort for a team, which has had a roster in flux all season with or without him, and which welcomed his return to the ice in practice a few weeks ago with lots of eager stick-tapping from his mates.
Bertuzzi, or not?
The Blue Jackets playing well, or not?
The Stars playing well, or not.
The Red Wings likely can account for most variables by finishing plays better, going to the net more often and — quite simply — by scoring an additional goal per game.
They have scored more than two goals in regulation only twice since March 25.
If they make three their minimum this week, they will accomplish a great deal toward their aspiration of reaching 22nd consecutive playoffs.
That is seven away from the record of 29 set by the Bruins, 1967-68 to 1995-96.
One thing is for certain: If one or more of the Red Wings steps up and is recognized as the offensive spark or sparks at this juncture, the Wings make the playoffs.
His contribution is likely to be remembered for a long time by the citizens of Hockeytown.