Krupa: Wings' outlook murky as losses mount
Detroit — It was the worst possible start for a team and a goaltender struggling to rediscover their elusive, best performances.
Before 19 seconds elapsed, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson coughed up the puck in a corner, to Jimmy Howard's right and slightly behind him. Two touches of the puck later by the Sharks and floater of a shot, chest-high, emerged from a group of bodies at least partially screening Howard, and it was behind him.
By the time the first period was over, 19:41 late, on the game clock, a whole new dynamic was established in the Red Wings' net.
With nine games left in the regular season, it now appears to be less about Howard "finding his game," than the Wings playing with whichever goalie, Howard or Petr Mrazek, is better.
The way both have been inconsistent in recent weeks, and again on Thursday against the Sharks, it might take some time to figure that out.
At this point, Mike Babcock probably would prefer that one of them simply seize the job and put the discussion — and emerging controversy — to rest.
But Babcock knows the team has other problems, too.
Clubs that give up 11 goals in two home games tend to have enough difficulty to spread around, and the Red Wings certainly do.
"We had 'D' that didn't box out and wasn't ready to go from the start," Babcock said of the corps of defensemen.
But he wants fewer pucks going in, and if that means juggling goalies or declaring Mrazek his number one, Babcock seems intent on getting the job done.
"We'll come in here tomorrow, and we'll get it fixed.
Net fix needed
"The outcome is: We can't keep it out of our net. So, until we get that fixed, nothing else. We're going to get that fixed tomorrow.
"You guys have a good night."
And, with that, he was off, behind the curtains, apparently in search of some of his problems in the showers and workout room.
The captain was matter of fact.
"It's been two games, right now, where we're not playing good defense," Henrik Zetterberg said. "It's tough to win games when we have to score five or six goals.
"But we're doing this to ourselves.
"We've got to play with more patience," he said. "We're giving the other teams too many easy chances, odd man rushes and we can't win like that.
"We're not helping out goalies. We're not boxing out in front of them. We're not having our sticks tipping pucks.
"This is not on Howie and Petr. This is on all the guys.
"We have to play better."
The Senators lost Friday. Their wunderkind of a goalie, Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond, was pulled in a 5-1 rout by the Rangers
The Bruins managed one point in an overtime loss to the Ducks.
So, despite a second night of catastrophe, the Wings lead over their pursuers remained at five points.
But it does not feel that way. Somehow, this feels worse than the desperate struggles to make the playoffs the last two seasons.
They are, in the words of their coach, "not like the Red Wings."
The avalanche of goals against them is playing havoc with their hopes to clinch a playoff spot, and destroying their confidence in entering the postseason playing all of their systems well.
Since a six-game road trip and a return game at home, Feb. 18 to March 4, when they went 5-1-1, they are 3-7-1.
They hoped to get it jump-started Thursday against the Sharks.
But, from the start, Howard looked uncomfortable. And that was not good, because Howard was standing in a goal crease at Joe Louis Arena, where he makes his living.
When his mates made his life even more difficult in the first period against the Sharks, Howard looked even worse.
Ericsson's turnover was the first of seven giveaways in the first period, alone, and one of 12 for the game.
After letting in three of 10 shots, Howard, the Red Wings' All-Star goalie of two-and-a-half months ago was on the bench for the last two periods.
"I agree with you," Babcock said when it was asserted Howard looked uneasy. "It's one of those things.
"Obviously, it didn't go the way he wanted.
"He's a proud guy. We gave him the opportunity to bounce back. He didn't do that."
And then, Mrazek made clear that he is still having a bit of trouble attending to his angles when a couple shots went in that should not. The 23-year-old will likely see that on the video.
"I didn't like the second goal that went in on him," Babcock said of a goal by Logan Couture that went under Mrazek's blocker arm, next to his ribs, and in.
"They can't chicken wing it. Couture's shot is a great shot. That can't happen to you."
The Wings are likely to see quite a bit of video and drawing on the white boards, Friday, before practice.
"In the last two games, we've given up a lot of goals and that's not Red Wing-like," Babcock said of the goalie change.
"But as a group of coaches and as a group of players, we've just got to bunker in here tomorrow and have a good conversation and have a good practice and get ready to play.
"We're going to get regrouped tomorrow, and I guarantee we'll be back and ready to go."
And they will go in front of Mrazek, at least for now.