By Steve Keating
DETROIT (Reuters) - The Detroit Red Wings pride themselves on a consistency that has captured the last eight Central Division crowns, but a 2-0 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday has left them in unfamiliar territory.
A fourth defeat in five games is a clear sign that the team is struggling in offense and with only five goals tallied during that period, sitting fourth in the division and outside a playoff spot is about as high up in the standings as they deserve.
Thrashers netminder Ondrej Pavelec added to Detroit's frustration by stopping all 40 shots fired at him to consign the Red Wings (11-8-4) to a first shutout of the season.
"We all got to be better," Detroit coach Mike Babcock told reporters. "Right now it's staying out for us, it's easy to become frustrated but that's a waste of energy and doesn't do anybody any good. To me that is just counter productive.
"Just stay with it and good things will happen."
Certainly there is not yet any panic in the Red Wings locker room, the team having weathered many slumps and scoring droughts over a decade of success.
For a record nine consecutive seasons, the Red Wings have enjoyed 100-point seasons and won more than 50 games in the last four, but with 11 wins from their opening 23 contests, they will be hard pressed to make it five in a row.
Something that may set alarm bells ringing is the fact that the Red Wings, who have reached the post-season for a North American professional sports record 18 years in a row, are currently sitting outside a playoff berth.
However, the long NHL season is still in its infancy and the standings in both the division and the Western Conference are so tight that even a modest winning streak could launch the Red Wings up the rankings.
A growing injury list and inconsistent goaltending have contributed to the Detroit slide but it the lack of scoring that is causing the greatest concern in "Hockeytown."
"I had a lot of chances. I should score, I should score some goals," said Henrik Zetterberg, the Wings' leading scorer with nine goals and 24 points.
"It's not good enough. We have our chances, we just have to be more sure to get the puck behind the goalie. We get our chances we have to finish it off.
"We just have to score goals."
Thrashers Nik Antropov tallied the only goal of the opening period before Slava Kozlov doubled the lead in the second, splitting the Detroit defense and lifting a neat backhand over Jimmy Howard with just eight seconds left in a power-play.
The two-goal margin was more than enough of a cushion for Pavelec, who collected his second career shutout.
(Editing by John O'Brien)