It's not that the Red Wings aren't a legitimate Stanley Cup contender or that the Detroiters haven't been the most impressive team thus far in the regular season. The mask that came off in Ottawa two nights ago was one that covered an ugly Detroit power play.
Since Christmas, the Red Wings have gone from having the NHL's best power play to having a poor power play. The team's defense, however, has been strong enough to mask that recent deficiency.
The Ottawa Senators, however, are the only team with a more potent offense than the Red Wings. And against a team that can score like that, Detroit needed to be able to attack more efficiently than it did during its 3-2 loss.
"We had a lot of opportunities, a lot of power plays, but we didn't capitalize on them," said Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski.
The Red Wings had six power plays against Ottawa, finally scoring on their final opportunity in the third period. That was the first goal in the Red Wings' climb back from a two-goal deficit.
But another goal on an earlier power play would have changed the complexion and perhaps outcome of the game.
The special-teams shortcoming has been a trend since Dec. 27. In their past nine games, the Red Wings are just 3-for-28 with the man-advantage (10.7 percent). In their 37 prior games, the Red Wings were operating at 43-for-177 (24.3 percent) efficiency.
At one point this season, the Red Wings scored at least one power-play goal in 11 straight games and at least one in 15 of 16.
What that means in terms of individual game scores is this: The Red Wings are scoring 0.7 fewer goals per game in their past nine games than earlier in the season. Even-strength scoring is actually up slightly, but the power-play is averaging 0.9 goals fewer per game than in the first 37 games of the campaign.
The Red Wings, however, have managed to go 6-2-1 during this power-play drought largely because of stellar defense and penalty killing.
In the first eight games of this drought, the Red Wings didn't allow an opposition power-play goal in 24 opportunities. In other words, despite scoring just two power-play goals in eight games, Detroit outscored its opponents, 2-0, in that category.
In each of the first seven games of this drought, the Red Wings held opponents to two or fewer goals. And that's one good way to win when you're offense is in a slump.
As for what's wrong with the power play, the Red Wings don't yet have a solution. There is no personnel missing.
Coach Mike Babcock went with obvious responses when asked after Saturday's loss in Ottawa what is wrong with the power play.
"It's not scoring," said Babcock.
And why isn't it scoring?
"'Cause we're not putting it in the net."
The one specific that the Red Wings have tabbed as needing repair is their inability to gain and maintain possession in the offensive zone during the power play.
"We had poor entries," said Babcock. "We never got in the zone. They (the Senators) did a real good job of holding the line. I have to look at tonight's game. … But they won the specialty teams battle."