Scotty Bowman: Red Wings lack key ingredients

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Scotty Bowman

Detroit — Scotty Bowman feels the most important aspects of today’s NHL are good goaltending and a dangerous power play.

The Red Wings have been fine with the goaltending this season, although Jimmy Howard’s injury last week casts doubt.

And the power play, well, hasn’t been good at all.

Bowman, 83, the legendary and Hall of Fame coach, who was in town for the 20th anniversary celebration of the 1997 Stanley Cup-winning team, remains an avid watcher of games and trends around the league.

Bowman’s opinion has merit when you see the Red Wings outside of the playoff picture Tuesday as the holiday break ended, thanks mainly to a power play that’s been brutal.

The Red Wings ranked 30th – last out of 30 teams – with an anemic 11.9 percent. On the road, the Red Wings’ power play is 2-for-45 on the season (4.4 percent).

The goaltending has been acceptable, although the knee injury to Howard, arguably the team’s most valuable player, could pose problems.

Howard is expected to miss approximately a month.

“You see a team like Columbus, its only lost five games and have the best record in the league because their goaltender (Sergei Bobrovsky) has been exceptional and the power play is around (26.9 percent, 1st in the league),” Bowman said. “If you don’t have those two components, it’s tough.

“If you don’t have those ingredients, you have to be pretty fortunate to win.”

Howard (5-7-1, .934 save percentage, 1.96 goals-against average) sprained his knee last week, leaving Petr Mrazek (9-7-3, .899 SVS, 3.06 GAA) as the likely starting goalie.

Mrazek hasn’t been as effective as he was last season.

“This (Red Wings) team, I haven’t seen a lot of it, I go to all the games in Tampa (where Bowman spends the winter) and I did see them in Pittsburgh, we had a ceremony there, they lost a tough game (to the Penguins), I felt they were getting pretty good goaltending last year and Jimmy Howard was playing good this year,” Bowman said. “The NHL is now a lot like the NFL. You hear about how the NFL is a quarterback’s league. You see everytime it goes going and someone loses a quarterback.

“In hockey now, it’s a different game. Goaltending is huge.”

But what can save the Red Wings, said Bowman, is the fact the team still has much of the schedule left and so many games within the division.

Those games will be an opportunity for the Red Wings to climb the division standings at the expense of teams ahead of them.

“The race is so close, you have six teams trying to get into one or two (playoff) spots,” Bowman said. “It’s changed so much (from the past), now with the Metropolitan Division. Those teams are all going on a tear. But I guess it’ll be the head to head competition.

“They (the Red Wings) have a lot of games left with teams like Ottawa and teams they are trying to beat out. You can’t afford to lose, you can’t afford to lose a lot of games, but teams do go on runs. You see teams with 10 or 12 undefeated games (in a row).”

Bowman, along with fan favorites Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Igor Larionov, Darren McCarty and Valdimir Konstantinov, to name a few, were on hand to celebrate the anniversary of the 1997 team.

The depth of talent on that team, along with Bowman’s coaching, were highlighted by players from that team.

“We trusted Scotty,” said Shanahan, now president of the Toronto Maple Leafs. “We were a pretty hardened group. People talk about the skill we had, and it was certainly a skilled group, but that 1996-97 team was the toughest team I’ve every played on. It had some tough individuals, and as a group, as a team, it was just a very hardened group of guys that were determined.

“People asked me about the 2002 Cup winner, whether that was the best team, and that might be the most talented team I played on. But if they played a series the 2002 Wings better win in four games because the 1997 Wings would have beaten them up.

“We were younger, meaner and had guys like Konstantinov and (Joe) Kocur and Bob Rouse and Darren McCarty and Martin Lapointe and Aaron Ward. We were a big, tough, mean team.”