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Krupa: Wings have to get it turned around on their dime

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — What is consistent is the inconsistency.

And with 10 games left in the regular season, the Red Wings must address that overriding issue while two of the biggest concerns during any stretch drive and playoffs are abruptly ascendant, too.

■The goaltending is not good.

■And they are suddenly sustaining injuries, again.

Leads of five and six points over the Senators and Bruins help. The Red Wings should make the playoffs.

But in some respects, that is not the issue.

The big concern is how they are playing. It varies.

Never a good approach, irregular performances foreshadow failure in best-of-seven series, especially against better opponents.

Even before the Red Wings improbably allowed five goals to the Coyotes, Jimmy Howard said he knew he needed to step up. Whether he does eventually likely will determine the course of the team.

As for the injuries, frankly, they are too often a matter of fate.

But a controllable element of the Red Wings performance is achieving the focus essential to avoid mistakes, like the rash of senseless stick penalties Tuesday and in other recent games, as well as the occasional blown assignments.

The remedy for a lagging power play also is certainly somewhere to be found, despite the fits and starts in that effort the past few weeks.

The penalties Tuesday gave the Coyotes — a team that was 1-17-1 coming in and had not scored four goals since two weeks before Valentine's Day — the conviction they could score at will.

Fix-a-Flat for Wings?

Five goals in an NHL where free ice is habitually unavailable these days, is fairly judged "at will."

Continuing that performance will coarsen a stretch drive that, for the Red Wings, is already rougher than necessary. It would outright banish hope in the playoffs.

It also makes the task for a No. 1 goaltender looking to regain his game all the more difficult.

And, over the course of the next three weeks, that is what Howard must be about, regaining the form that until his ill-starred groin injury Jan. 10 made him an all-star.

"We were chasing the game all night long," coach Mike Babcock said, registering the need for urgency. "They'd score. They'd score. They'd score."

Babcock uses words with a purpose. When he repeats something three times, with some emphasis, he is leaving no doubt.

Howie's game

For the Red Wings to play deep in the playoffs, make no mistake, the task of stopping the puck is Howard's.

To ask a goaltender with no playoff experience to steal an occasional playoff game is ill-advised.

Oh, sure, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Cam Ward, Antti Niemi and Ron Hextall all played well. But the proposition is not favorable for "the kid" or his team.

The task is more perilous when Petr Mrazek has struggled with his game, at times, since the start of the season in Grand Rapids and during some of his winning streak after Howard's injury. And, it was apparent again in two of his last three starts.

Could Mrazek play and star?

Perhaps.

But that is far from Plan A.

The Red Wings like their chances for making the playoffs and out of a round or two skating in front of Howard, which makes the coming days among the most important in his career.

I would give him prime responsibility for two of the Coyotes' goals. His teammates could have helped with the rest, including by staying out of the box.

When the Red Wings have exceeded expectations for a long stretches of the season, Howard played as well as he has in his career for much of the time. For them to make the playoffs and play into the conference final for the first time in six years, he would have to do so again.

Time to recalibrate

His consistency is his responsibility. But the team's is the responsibility of all.

They all have 10 games to reclaim their groove if their long campaign is to be consequential.

Babcock asserts during the playoffs and the Olympics that winning a Stanley Cup or gold medal is a matter of getting just about everything right and then having a run of good fortune.

Players and coaches attend to getting stuff right. Beyond that, fate will assert itself.

The injuries? They will either happen, or not.

Right now Niklas Kronwall, Erik Cole, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen are all implicated. Going forward, it may be others.

If necessary, a young player from the passel the Red Wings may have in store will either step up, or not.

What is of greater note, if only because it is more controllable, is re-establishing the attention to detail that for a long stretches of the season made the Red Wings a team others feared, a swift team, a crisp team that played with fewer flaws and consistently good goaltending.

With a lead of several points and 10 games remaining, a goalie and a team in search of their best game is not the worst of circumstances.

It can, in fact, result in focusing the efforts.

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

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