DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings have dry-erase boards in the dressing room, nestled between the showers and training room, that show how they stack up.
Usually, their winged-wheel logo is at least near the top of the Western Conference standings. Not anymore.
Detroit’s recent surge – earning a point in seven of its last eight games – has pushed the perennial NHL powerhouse merely into an eighth-place tie after play Tuesday night.
It’s early and no one thinks Detroit is a bad team. But it’s an open question whether the Red Wings will be able to earn home ice advantage in the playoffs for an 18th straight year.
“We’re going to have to fight just to make the playoffs and it’s going to be a grind,” said senior vice-president Jim Devellano, the first person owner Mike Ilitch hired when he bought the team in 1982. “To get home-ice advantage would be a miracle. A miracle.”
Detroit has been a top-four seeded team the past 17 post-seasons, winning four Stanley Cups and finishing as the runner-up last season for the second time during its dominant stretch.
Devellano says just making it to the post-season will be a difficult task because the team lost players such as Marian Hossa during the off-season who combined to score 88 goals and now is without forward Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula because of injuries.
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland disagreed, insisting the roster is still talented enough to win a ninth-straight Central Division title and 13th in 16 seasons.
“Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are two of the best players in the world and they’re in the prime of their careers,” Holland said. “Our top four defencemen rank among the best in the league and Chris Osgood has shown what he can do in goal.
“Who’s going to run away with our division? Chicago? We got off to a bad start and the Blackhawks are only two points ahead of us, and there’s still a lot of hockey left to play.”
Captain Nicklas Lidstrom said the Red Wings (6-4-3) will be able to gauge how good they are Thursday night at home against the San Jose Sharks (11-4-1), second in the Western Conference behind Colorado.
“No doubt, a top team like San Jose is a good measuring stick for us,” Lidstrom said.
The Red Wings used to set the bar for excellence for the past two decades, rolling to 18 straight playoff appearances for the longest such streak in sports and setting an NHL record with nine straight 100-point seasons.
Now, they have to dig in the corners for every win and have to work harder to get fans to come to Joe Louis Arena.
The team asked fans at Tuesday’s game against the Bruins to stand to be filmed for a commercial holding signs that read: “Hockeytown – No Limits.” If the camera panned some sections, it would’ve filmed some empty seats. The announced attendance was 19,167 in the 20,066-seat arena.
“It’s not a bad crowd for a Tuesday night,” senior vice-president Steve Violetta said Tuesday night, standing in one of Joe Louis Arena’s empty suites. “Our season-ticket sales are down slightly, so we’ve had to be more aggressive with group sales and creative with nine-and 19-game plans that have flexible payment options that can be spread over six months.
“A few years ago, we were competing with other teams and entertainment options for discretionary money. Now, we’re competing with bread and milk.”
After the crowd thinned and went home after the shutout of the Bruins, most of the Red Wings went through their customary post-game workout.
Veteran Kirk Maltby then walked from the weight room and toward the player’s lounge, stopping to look at and talk about the dry-erase boards that have the Red Wings in an unfamiliar position.
“Guys need to look at it,” Maltby said. “But we have to keep things in perspective because we’ve only played 13 games. If it was a ’73’ up there instead of ’13’ it would be a different story.
“I’m not going to question what Jimmy D thinks about us at this point, but I don’t think it’s going to take a miracle to repeat in the division.”