“The Red Wings, struggling mightily to fight off the mid-winter blahs, had managed to forge themselves a nifty little two-goal lead in the third period. It looked, finally, like a game the Red Wings could put away and reclaim some confidence. Then Osgood struck.”
How’s this for a statistical anomaly?
The Detroit Red Wings — yes, those Red Wings who have the second-best record in the Western Conference — are among the worst in the NHL in save percentage. They rank 25th or 26th, depending on the day you look at the rankings.
How many teams ranked in the lower 15-20 percent of anything that important in hockey can you consider as Stanley Cup contenders? Yet the Red Wings are, and may still be the strongest of contenders when all is said and done.
Clearly, though, this is not the recipe for success. The Red Wings’ save percentage, which is not even at .900, is not going to get the job done in the playoffs, where even one bad goal can cost you a game and ultimately a series. Then there’s the penalty kill — especially the road kill (nice wording, huh?) — which is functioning at another heinously low rate of success. And what is it they say about your goaltender being your most potent penalty killer?
The save percentage number, and the road kill number, are aggregate; they’re team stats, in theory.
But there are only two netminders on the Red Wings’ roster, and one of them isn’t to blame for all of this.
Look not at Ty Conklin; he can be judged an innocent, for the most part.
That leaves one guy.
Chris Osgood, for reasons that we may never truly know — for trying to figure out goalies is like monkeying around with a Rubik’s Cube — is a bad goalie right now. He’s killing the Red Wings with zany, eye-rolling goals. They are goals that have been allowed in Detroit by the likes of Eddie Mio and Corrado Micalef and Bob Essensa. Nothing that you would expect from Osgood, with his hundreds of victories and two Stanley Cups as a starter.
Osgood’s not right. And time is running out to get him right.
This isn’t, I promise you, the annual hand-wringing over the Red Wings’ goalie situation. You know, the one that gets trotted out around this time of the year because there is, frankly, nothing else to worry about — because the division has been wrapped up and the playoffs are the A-train that we keep looking down the tracks for as we check our watch impatiently. No, this is the real deal; a real concern.
Osgood has been in search of the puck unsuccessfully too often this season
Osgood was at it again the other night, at home against Phoenix. The Red Wings, struggling mightily to fight off the mid-winter blahs, had managed to forge themselves a nifty little two-goal lead in the third period. It looked, finally, like a game the Red Wings could put away and reclaim some confidence. Then Osgood struck.
There was a goofy, short-side goal that the Coyotes scored because Osgood failed to defend the post in a move that would have earned him a do-over in Goalie 101. 4-3 Detroit. Then, another slap shot from the point eluded Osgood, tying the game — a goal oddly like the one the St. Louis Blues used a couple nights earlier to tie the Red Wings, also late in the third period. Phoenix 4, Detroit 4.
Nick Lidstrom saved the night, though, with a PP goal with less than a minute to play.
Coach Mike Babcock was at his best afterward, with his ability to call out his own players without embarrassing them too much.
“I think Lidstrom picked Osgood up,” Babcock said. Then, he refused to lay the blame of losing the 4-2 lead anywhere but at Osgood’s doorstep.
“I just think that the puck went into the net,” Babcock said, and his implication was crystal clear. It was Babcock-speak for: our goalie let us down tonight.
But Babcock wasn’t done. After word got back to the coach that Osgood, in his own post-game comments, mentioned that the Red Wings don’t seem to be as “loose” as they were last season, Babcock pounced.
“There’s one way to cure that,” he said, “and that’s to get better goaltending.”
But it’s true. Osgood is fighting the puck — another ancient hockey term — and time’s running out to get him to win that battle. Don’t be misled by the Red Wings’ ability to overcome mediocre goaltending in the regular season. If Osgood doesn’t raise his game, then Babcock will have to duplicate last spring’s gutsy move, when he replaced starter Dominik Hasek with Osgood after Game 4 of the Nashville series. Only, this time it will be Osgood who will be lifted, Conklin (who’s played awfully well) replacing him. That is, of course, if Babcock turns to Ozzie as his starter to begin with. If there’s anything Babcock has shown since he’s been the Red Wings coach, it’s been his lack of shyness when it comes to making bold decisions.
The trouble is, so much of goaltending is the game that’s played between the ears. The goalie’s cerebellum is unlike that of any other human. That’s why a goalie coach might be the most underrated job in all of sports. The Red Wings have a good one in Jim Bedard. No doubt Bedard will have his work cut out for him between now and the playoffs.
Chris Osgood isn’t right. That’s not panic; it’s not overblown. It’s fact. This time, you’re allowed to worry with impunity.