For an organization supposedly on the downswing, the Detroit Red Wings certainly have won a lot of games in recent years.
But since back-to-back trips to the finals in 2008 and 2009 – including what was then the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup win in an 11-year span in the closest thing to a dynasty we may see in this era – there’s been a tendency to look for holes in Wings game, signs that finally, perhaps, they are about to falter.
The loss of captain Nick Lidstrom to retirement last summer was certainly one catalyst for that, but the Wings also got off to a tough start this season, going only 7-7-3 as the blueline went down with injuries and netminder Jimmy Howard struggled to find his form.
Since a brutal 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at the end of March, however, Detroit has been looking more and more like the team of old, with a 7-3-3 finish to the regular season leading into eliminating the second seeded Anaheim Ducks in the first round.
That they are now on the verge of eliminating the Blackhawks in the second round has come as a bit of a surprise to a hockey world expecting to anoint Chicago, Pittsburgh or Los Angeles as 2013 champs, but the reality is the Wings have continued to be one of the NHL’s better teams even without a deep postseason run since 2009.
Wings remain among NHL's elite
Since back-to-back appearances in the finals in 2008 and 2009, Detroit has still won as many regular season games and played in as many playoff games as many of the best teams in the league.
SOURCE: James Mirtle
Consider some of the following numbers:
Five: Only five teams have had a better regular-season record than the Wings in the four seasons since they lost in Game 7 of the finals: Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington and San Jose.
Eight: Detroit is one of only eight NHL teams to make the playoffs in every one of those four seasons as part of an incredible 22-year postseason streak.
Thirty-nine: Including this year’s run, the Wings have now played in more playoff games (39) than 23 other franchises the past four years. And only the three recent Cup winners (Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles) and San Jose, Vancouver and Philadelphia have won more in the postseason in that span.
Beyond those basics, the Wings have been one of the league’s best teams in many advanced statistics in each of the past four seasons, too. According to behindthenet.ca, Detroit has ranked fourth, eighth, third and fifth in a measure called Fenwick Close, which gauges puck possession and is generally a strong indicator of playoff success.
Talk of the franchise needing a tear-down in the post-Lidstrom era, in other words, has been overblown.
After all, this is still a team with great two-way stars (Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg), an excellent coach (Mike Babcock) and an emerging goalie (Howard) to give them many of the key building blocks of a perennially contending franchise.
Yes, the Wings remain one of the league’s older teams, but that was also the case when they were winning all those Cups, and much of the supporting cast is young and hard working.
While they’re no longer the one overwhelmingly dominant team in the NHL, they continue to be among the top seven or eight contenders year after year, and in a parity-filled league, that’s pretty remarkable.
And this could well be their year, yet again.