The Detroit Red Wings are a great team with one glaring weakness that cost them a win against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night and just might cost them a series if a solution isn't found.
Going into last night's 4-2 Penguins win, the Red Wings sat 14th in killing penalties among the 16 teams who started the NHL playoffs. They had a mediocre 73.3-per-cent success rate, allowing 16 goals in 60 opportunities. They gave the Penguins only three power plays last night but coughed up goals on two of them to let the hosts cut their lead in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final to 2-1.
Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock did not want to discuss his team's shortcoming in detail, although it stretches to the regular season. He seemed to think the problem was that the referees were not calling enough penalties on the Penguins.
Babcock was particularly unhappy with the interference call on Wings defenceman Jonathan Ericsson at 9:06 of the third period. That resulted in Sergei Gonchar's power-play goal at 10:29, which was the winning goal.
What made it worse in Babcock's eyes was that the NHL officiating bosses told the coaches interference penalties were going to be called often.
"They told us they were going to clamp down on it, but I saw four from one particular guy on their team that never got called," Babcock said.
When he was pressed, Babcock would only allow that there was a mistake on the first power-play goal and it was just a bad break on the second one. This even though the Penguins controlled the puck for almost the entire power-play on the second goal.
On the first one, the mistake was allowing Evgeni Malkin to make a cross-ice pass from the boards midway between the blueline and the goal line to defenceman Kris Letang on the opposite point. Then Wings goaltender Chris Osgood failed to make a save he should have.
"On the one goal, they went half-wall across, which is a mistake by us," Babcock said. "It was an ugly goal, but we should have cut it off. On the second power-play goal, we worked real hard but didn't get a stick on [the puck]to make it go 200 feet. That's the way it goes.
"You have to give [the Penguins]credit. They battled hard."
There were equally few answers from the Red Wings players about their penalty-killing woes.
"No, I don't know," said defenceman Brad Stuart. "For whatever reason, we've had some trouble with it. If we knew exactly why, we would have corrected it.
"We're getting some bad breaks. The last goal, we just got caught out there and we were a little gassed. We've come up with some timely kills, but definitely, statistically, this doesn't look too good."
Forward Johan Franzen thought the problem started because the Wings are so good in even-strength situations.
"Maybe because we play so solid five-on-five, the other team gives their all when they finally get a power play," he said. "They really make sure they create a lot of chances because they don't get as many chances during five-on-five. Maybe that's a reason."
The best attempt to explain the problem came from Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. The Red Wings are quick to grab pucks dumped into their end on power-play shoot-ins and the Penguins did a good job getting to the puck just as quickly and taking possession of it.
"We broke their pressure when they did have loose pucks," he said. "We came up with good sticks and kept that thing alive. I don't know what time was on the clock when we scored [the second power-play goal] but it was well past a minute, 25 [seconds]into that power play.
"Their guys were tired. Our guys were tired. But our guys had the determination to get on the sticks and get that goal."
It also helped that the Penguins were able to consistently get their forwards in Osgood's crease for the first time in the series.
"The key was getting traffic there," Bylsma said. "That is the key to solving every goaltender."