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Thursday, March 31, 2011
Daily Debate: Cause for concern in Detroit?

By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate Detroit's playoff chances and wonder if the Flames are done:

Burnside: Good day, my friend. Angst would be the word of the day in Montreal and Detroit after the Habs and Red Wings were waxed by a combined 16-5 score Wednesday night, fueling concerns about the playoffs for both teams.

But first, let's start in Calgary, where even angst would be preferable to the belief Flames fans have after their team's 4-2 loss to Anaheim on Wednesday. Although the Flames led early, they couldn't match the Ducks' drive to destiny (I'm going to keep using that term for the Ducks until someone shows me a reason not to); now, for all intents and purposes, Calgary is out of the Western Conference playoff hunt.

The Flames were a terrific story earlier in the season, going on a tear after GM Darryl Sutter was forced out of his job and Jay Feaster took over. But the sobering reality today is, without the playoffs, the Flames have a long road ahead of them. They are old, have too many underachieving players with big contracts and little in the way of talent coming down the pipe. In short, Feaster faces big offseason decisions, including whether to try to move pieces like Robyn Regehr, Miikka Kiprusoff or even Jarome Iginla (although Feaster has made it pretty clear he's not interested in parting with his captain).

Still, it's a bit sad; I was looking forward to an all-Canadian Vancouver/Calgary matchup in the first round.

LeBrun: Last night's loss was most likely the nail in the Flames' coffin. They can still put up 95 points, so it's not totally out of the question, but the odds are not great. One sports odds website gives the Flames only a 0.7 percent chance to earn a berth after last night's loss. Ouch. I mentioned it yesterday, but the loss of top center Brendan Morrison on March 2 has really taken a toll, as has the subsequent loss of David Moss. The lack of depth at center hammered Calgary.

Youngster Mikael Backlund recently stepped in between Iginla and Alex Tanguay and has looked overmatched at times, especially last night when going head to head with Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf. The Ducks, meanwhile, keep rolling, and those were two big points again last night because their remaining five games are no gimmes -- two against San Jose, two against Los Angeles (to end the regular season) and one against Dallas, all Pacific Division matchups. But the Ducks are just two points out of fourth place now in the West. Imagine if I told you a month ago Anaheim could possibly have home ice in the first round of the playoffs?

Burnside: It is a great story, and I love the idea of both Southern California teams looking to be set for the postseason for the first time. I know you are California dreamin', my friend. And to think that early in the year there was talk about Ducks coach Randy Carlyle's job security.

No dreaming in Detroit last night, though, just a nightmare, in a 10-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues. Backup goalie Joey MacDonald started and looked not ready for prime time in giving up seven goals on 39 shots. Starter Jimmy Howard is expected to play this weekend, but Red Wings fans are up in arms after the team's play of late. They sure look like a team that is misfiring on many cylinders. I know he's only one player, but I can't help but think the return of Pavel Datsyuk (perhaps this weekend) will be the tonic for a Red Wings team that was being lumped in with Vancouver as a potential Cup candidate not too long ago. You know Detroit coach Mike Babcock will be searching for answers in the next seven or eight days.

LeBrun: I got a question in my chat yesterday from a Wings fan whose handle was "Panicky," and that was before last night's debacle. If I were the Red Wings, though, a veteran and savvy team, I would just chalk it up as a stinker and move on.

"That's what I'm going to do,'' Babcock told me this morning. "But the great thing about this game is reality: you are what you are, and you are what you are every single day. The bottom line is that yesterday we weren't good enough. The coaches, whatever we did, wasn't good enough. The players, whatever they did, wasn't good enough.

"You can stand in the right spots all you want on the ice, but you have to out-compete the other team and we never did. From the goaltenders to the D to the forwards to the coaching staff, we were poor. Those are the facts."

Listen, the Red Wings would definitely rather be on a roll heading into the playoffs than doing this. But if you eliminate last night's game and focus on the other losses, you'll see a hard-fought 2-1 loss to Vancouver, a tough overtime loss to Chicago and a shootout loss to Pittsburgh. They played well in those games.

But my big-picture concern is with the team's overall defensive play. The Wings are 21st in the league in goals against per game. Last season, they were seventh. Now, a lot of this has to do with all the injuries they've had again this season, no question, but still ...

"It hasn't been good," Babcock said of his team's overall defensive play. "I thought it was real good early in the season, then I thought we were taped together [because of injuries] for a long time. There's lot of things that go into a year. But to be honest with you, I think we know how to play. We've played enough good games that we know how to play. Our focus wasn't there last night, but I liked our focus in a number of games recently before that. I thought we had played pretty darn good even if we didn't get the results."

Datsyuk and Howard are on the mend and should be back this weekend, Babcock said. The Wings play at Nashville on Saturday and host Minnesota on Sunday. Time to get the train back on track.

Burnside: Yes, those losses you pointed out were hard-fought losses, but what is troubling is those are the games the Wings are going to play every night in the playoffs. Whether it's Phoenix or Los Angeles or Anaheim or, gulp, Chicago, it's going to be a grind every night and, right now, Detroit isn't winning enough of those grind games.

You mentioned the recent losses. Well, the Wings have just four wins in their past 14 games. The red flag for me is they are brutal at home, and not just Wednesday night. The Wings have won just once in their past six home games and their 20 home wins this season is tied for the lowest total of any of the top 10 teams in the West.

Before we wrap up, I wanted to weigh in on the Habs' grisly 6-2 loss to the surging Carolina Hurricanes. I still think it's too late for Carolina given Buffalo's clutch 1-0 win over the Rangers sans Ryan Miller, but the Habs have lost three of four, can't score and now can't stop the puck. It looks like they are primed to be knocked off by a top seed in a couple of weeks, no?

LeBrun: I can't think of a team currently sitting in a playoff spot that impresses me less than the Canadiens. First-round fodder is all I think when I watch them play these days. Last season, I thought the same thing because Montreal dropped eight of its final 11 games entering the playoffs. And then, of course, they knocked out the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals. Just don't see it this time; they look spent. Hart and Vezina Trophy candidate Carey Price looks tired after playing his league-leading 69th game of the season last night. Many of us were wrong about the Habs last season, but I'm convinced this time it's true: first-round fodder. Until tomorrow, my friend.