It wasn't long ago that the Detroit Red Wings seemed to be doing just fine without several key contributors from last season's 102-point team.
Lately, though, those absences have become much more glaring.
Mired in a five-game skid and coming off a loss to the worst team in the Western Conference, the Red Wings look to bounce back Saturday night against the Nashville Predators.
Although it preceded a first-round loss to the Predators, the 2011-12 regular season was another successful one for Detroit, which eclipsed 100 points for the 12th straight year.
This season, however, brought a good deal of change to the Red Wings, with the retirements of Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom, as well as the free-agent departures of Brad Stuart and Jiri Hudler.
Detroit (7-7-3) appeared capable of maintaining its regular level of success without those players after starting 7-4-1, but a five-game slide has dropped it out of the top eight teams in the West. If the season ended today, the Red Wings would miss the playoffs for the first time since 1989-90.
Thursday's 3-2 loss to Columbus marked the third time in the losing streak that Detroit squandered a two-goal lead.
"When we got up 2-0, we fooled around a little bit," coach Mike Babcock said.
"We felt we created chances, had a lot of shots, but we couldn't really find a way to get the puck in there," captain Henrik Zetterberg told the team's official website. "We did a lot of good things today in the PP but it's still not good enough."
The latest loss also included an injury to defenseman Kyle Quincey, who won't play Saturday due to a sprained ankle. That's bad news for a team that has surrendered 19 goals in the last five games.
Jimmy Howard stopped 21 shots Thursday and is 0-2-1 with a 4.08 goals-against average in the losing streak. He started Detroit's 4-3 overtime loss at Nashville on Tuesday, allowing two goals on seven shots before leaving in the first period with blurred vision.
Pavel Datsyuk had a goal and an assist in that meeting, giving him seven points in his last five games against the Predators (8-5-5). While Datsyuk had a five-game goal-scoring streak snapped Thursday, Zetterberg's goal drought reached 10 games.
Nashville also is struggling, falling 1-0 to visiting Vancouver on Friday for its third loss in four games. The Predators, who have been shut out a league high-tying four times, managed only five shots each in the second and third period.
"In the end, when we got down and we got a little desperate, we played pretty well, but other than that, we weren't very good tonight," captain Shea Weber said.
The continued lack of offense wasted another strong performance from Pekka Rinne, who has a 1.04 GAA and three shutouts this month. He's also been excellent against the Red Wings lately, going 7-1-0 with a 1.88 GAA in his past eight meetings, including last year's playoffs.
Backup Chris Mason struggled in his last start, yielding six goals on 18 shots before he was pulled in a 6-5 loss at Colorado on Monday.
Martin Erat has been one of the leading culprits in Nashville's offensive woes, tallying three points - all assists - in his last nine contests.
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