The Detroit Red Wings are entering the playoffs for the 20th straight season, looking to bring home the 12th Stanley Cup in the franchise history. This veteran team is very aware of what it will take to make another deep run into the playoffs, but no matter who they match up against in round one they will find no easy path through the Western Conference. Although the Red Wings have one of the deepest teams in the league offensively, their very average defense will have to step up to avoid another early exit.
Playoff hockey becomes far more defensive, which slows the game down and will mask the Red Wings lack of speed, but they will still need to be better defensively. While they have one of the best defensemen of all time in captain Nick Lidstrom, they lack good defense beyond him. The team has seen Brad Stuart elevate this game this season, but they will need more from Niklas Kronwall, Brian Rafalski, Jakub Kindl, Ruslan Salei and (gulp) Jonathan Ericsson. With one game left in the regular season the Red Wings have allowed more goals than any other playoff team, and have committed an alarming number of turnovers from their defensemen in their own zone (If the NHL kept track of turnovers the way the NFL does interceptions, Jonathan Ericsson would be the second coming of Scott Mitchell).
Obviously the Red Wings cant expect their defenseman to become dramatically better when the playoffs start, there are little things they can do to improve. All too frequently the Red Wings defensemen play far too offensively and leave Jimmy Howard out to dry. While the Red Wings will need stellar goaltending from Jimmy Howard, they also need to do a better job of making his life easier. Limiting turnovers, cutting down on the number of breakaways allowed, and clearing rebounds will be crucial to staying in games and should help buck the trend of falling behind 0-2 in games.
Every great playoff run has its share of unlikely heroes or players who take their game to the next level. The Red Wings will need at least one of their unlikely heroes to come from the defensive end. Whether the Red Wings receive a defensive boost or not expect the team to devote their offseason to improving the defense.