Lalonde spells out Red Wings' unavoidable problem. Can Yzerman solve it?


In the first period alone Tuesday night, the Red Wings hit the post and the crossbar and missed a wide open net. They finished the game with more shots, more scoring chances and a higher expected goals share than the Oilers -- across all situations and at five on five -- and lost 5-2 after an empty-netter. It summarized one of the stories of their season: even when they're good, the Red Wings still aren't good enough.

"It just didn’t go our way tonight with the offense," said Derek Lalonde, and how many times has he said that already? How many times will he have to say it again? The Red Wings have just six wins this season when allowing more than two goals. The Oilers, while we're here, have 15.

"The open net, the posts, certainly could have had a different outcome, but that’s why they’re a perennial playoff team," Lalonde said. "They don’t need a whole lot of (chances) for offense and they didn’t tonight. Just the inability to finish tonight with some of our looks was a little bit frustrating."

With stars like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who were actually held in check by Detroit, the Oilers are a bit like Lalonde's former team. As the coach so often says himself, the Lightning had the talent to win on their off-nights. (They have 12 wins this season when allowing more than two goals.) His new team has almost no margin for error. The Red Wings went 0-5 on the power play Tuesday night and surrendered a short-handed goal via the empty-netter. That was the game.

It wasn't that Detroit's power play was bad. It was actually pretty good. As Lalonde said, "We had a ton of good looks, we had some good movement, we had them out of position and we were unable to cash in." Moritz Seider rang the crossbar. Dylan Larkin, Lucas Raymond and David Perron were all stymied from close range. So was Domink Kubalik on a couple one-timers he tends to bury.

"And that's part of the frustration," said Lalonde.

The Red Wings lack finishers. They have a number of good, solid players up front, more than they've had in years, but only one true difference-maker in Larkin and no true goal-scorers. The one goal-scorer they do have is trying to find his game in Grand Rapids; with six goals in his past seven games, Jakub Vrana should be back in Detroit soon. But he won't fix the problem himself. It's much bigger than one player: Steve Yzerman and the Wings need more forwards who can put the puck in the net.

“We have to finish," said Lalonde. "I know it sounds simple, but we’re not natural finishers, goal-scorers. We don’t have a ton of 30-, 40-, 50-goal-scorers on our team. We actually don’t have any of them, really. It kind of has to be by a group."

By the numbers, Lalonde is right. And the numbers are stark: the Wings are one of only four NHL teams, along with the cellar-dwelling Blackhawks, Blue Jackets and Coyotes, without a single player scoring at a 30-goal pace this season. Their leading scorer, Larkin, is on track for 25 goals. Yzerman was likely banking on at least two 30-goal scorers this season in Vrana and Tyler Bertuzzi; the latter scored 30 in 68 games last season, the former has scored 22 in 39 career games with Detroit. Alas, it's February and Vrana and Bertuzzi have three goals combined.

Good teams have depth of scoring. It wasn't McDavid and Draisatil who did in the Red Wings Tuesday night. It was ultimately Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who scored his 23rd of the season late in the third to put the game on ice. Along with Zach Hyman, he's one of four Oilers who's on pace to push 40 goals. (McDavid, that freak, actually already has 41.) And the Wings probably won't have a single player hit 30.

Things could surely look different under better circumstances for Vrana and Bertuzzi. At the same time, what did the Red Wings really expect? Their two biggest goal-scoring threats have one 30-goal season between them. Larkin has a couple himself, but he's more of a facilitator for the players around him. He does not and never will fit the mold of 'finisher.' And (gulp) does anyone in Detroit's pipeline?

The Red Wings have the makings of a really good defensive core in Seider, Filip Hronek, the emerging Jake Walman, prospects Simon Edvinsson and William Wallinder and veteran Ben Chiarot (and perhaps Olli Maatta, if he sticks around). At some point, they're either going to have to draw from this depth or splurge in free agency -- or both -- to solve their dilemma up front.

Does Yzerman make a run at Sharks winger Timo Meier ahead of the March 3 trade deadline? The 26-year-old pending unrestricted free agent scored 35 goals last season, is on pace for nearly 50 this season and probably won't be hitting the open market this summer. Now might be the best time to strike. What about 25-year-old Canucks winger Brock Boeser? His numbers are down this season, which might lower his price tag via trade, but he scored at a 30-goal pace the prior two and is signed through 2025. Both players would fit the timeline of the Red Wings' rebuild.

In free agency, Vladimir Tarasenko could be a name to watch. The longtime Blues sniper has six 30-goal seasons to his name, including 34 last season, is 31 years of age and has several former teammates in Detroit. Who knows if he'd consider a move to the Wings, but Tarasenko would instantly give Larkin the kind of winger he's never played with. (Which, assuming he's still around, is one way to elevate Larkin's game.) The free-agent market otherwise looks thin on goal-scorers. But of course: teams that have them tend to keep them.

The Red Wings are close to entering playoff contention in the East. But they won't get there without more forwards who can finish, and that's to say nothing of going any further. The top six teams in the East this season all have at least three players scoring at a 30-goal pace, aside from the Hurricanes who have two. And as the Wings search for more weapons, the Sabres and Senators are loading up. A deep Atlantic Division is about to get deeper.

Whatever it costs to put more pucks in the net, Yzerman might have to pay it.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Michael Reaves / Staff