Detroit Red Wings Analysis: The Wings after 21 Games

USA TODAY Sports

This was supposed to be done yesterday, but the schedulemakers are jerks.

We've done it; the Wings are finally at that 20-game point where we're allowed to just say they are what they are by now and this-or-that needs to change. Well, technically they were there on Thursday, but west coast trips make everything more difficult.

The Wings went from 7-6-2 after 15 games to their new record of 10-8-3. While that's good enough for 2nd place in the division thanks to some slumping competition, Detroit's hold on 4th place in the conference is extremely tentative, considering they're only one point above 10th and have played more games than all but one of the teams behind them in the standings. In reality, the Wings are a 10-11 squad after 21 games.

So what do we know about this Wings team after a month and a half of play? Seems we know the same thing we knew six, 11, and 16 games ago really; the Red Wings can skate with any team on any night, but so can everybody else and they don't seem to be any better at it than any of the rest of a handful of Western Conference teams. The one saving grace that holds the Wings slightly above the "bubble team" label is that they've led the league in man-games lost to injury and (surprise!) have looked a lot better in the few games where they've been healthier.

Let's take a look at the last six games:

  • Feb 19th: Detroit 3 - Nashville 4 (OT)
  • Feb 21st: Columbus 3 - Detroit 2
  • Feb 23rd: Nashville 0 - Detroit 4
  • Feb 24th: Vancouver 3 - Detroit 8
  • Feb 27: Detroit 1 - Los Angeles 2
  • Feb 28th Detroit 2 - San Jose 1 (SO)

Looks like things came in pairs for the last 10 days. Two soul-crushing losses that led to questions about everybody's future with the team followed by two dominant home performances. After that, two tightly-contested road games.

Let's take a look at the three phases of the game and see where we're at.

Offense

Overall, Detroit sits at 14th in the league for offensive production with 2.76 goals/game, a rise from 2.60 the last time we looked at these numbers. When you focus just on the 5-on-5 phase of the game, Detroit jumps to 4th-best in the league at GF/GA ratio. As a factor of pace instead of ratio, Detroit's 5-on-5 scoring is 14th with 2.4 goals per-60-minutes played at 5-on-5. The team shooting % of 8.3 is fairly close to, but still below average.

Recently, the Wings have gotten more balanced scoring than they had been. Of the 19 goals Detroit scored in those six games, seven of them came from players outside of the top six, two came from defensemen, and the remaining 10 were the top-line standard-bearers. However, if you cut out the special teams and stay focused just at 5-on-5, half of Detroit's 14 even-strength goals have come from the depth.

While depth scoring always nice to see and is something for which Graham clamored last week, the pace of the top lines needs to pick back up.

Defense

Once again in the middle of the pack, the Wings sit 16th leaguewide in goals allowed per game with 2.71. This is a step in the right direction, as they sat at 2.90 after the 15-game mark and allowed only 13 goals in these last six games. Interestingly enough, Detroit's 5-on-5 goals against pace rose from 1.46 all the way up to 2.0, but their ranking among the league in that category actually improved from 10th to 8th. Regression makes fools of us all, I guess.

Ten of Detroit's 13 goals against in this last block of games have come at even-strength. This is thanks in large part to the fact that, despite all appearances, Detroit's goaltending at 5-on-5 is the sixth-best in the entire league. This has really helped, because the Wings sit in the middle of the pack defensively when it comes to preventing shots. Still, Detroit takes more shot attempts than their opposition in close-game situations and while that may not be the entire recipe for success, it's a staple ingredient.

While we're adding ingredients to this, I'd kind of like to see if we can go to a lowered-odd-man-rush formula for the rest of the way, just to see what that would do for our collective blood pressure.

Special Teams

This has been the problem-child for the Wings for some time. Detroit remains in the bottom-half for both PP% and PK% and has a Bowman Index score of 46 (PP Rank + PK Rank). Their combined efficiency score is 93 (PP% + PK%). Looking at the list of teams lower than that hurts my brain: Colorado, Buffalo, Carolina, and league-worst Winnipeg. Detroit's total special teams goal differential is -6

All isn't necessarily lost on that front, though. The last six-game stretch leaves room for hope. Detroit's 4/18 power play performance (22.2%) is promising if you ignore that three of those goals came in a one-game outburst against Vancouver.

Maybe that's not the best reason for hope. Still, Detroit has also put up a 16/19 PK in that same time, which is another not-great-but-respectable 84.2%.

Detroit's special teams look to be moving slowly in the right direction, but it's a short season; patience has had us waiting 21 games already while looking at numbers that are simply not good enough.

Conclusion

Detroit has made strides as a team, but they're getting close to having to decide what kind of gambles they're looking to take for the remainder of the year. The emergence of youngsters like Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson dominating in lower-line roles has been a breath of fresh air, but it would be nice to not have to question whether they should be taking over higher-line responsibilities from people who aren't taking advantage of bigger minutes (and playing against tougher competition).

It's a cop-out to say, but there are still a lot of questions about this team which we can't conclusively answer at the 21-game mark. In general, it feels like a more defensively-minded coaching philosophy has taken hold recently with Detroit's 2nd essentially being a "grinders + Datsyuk" matchup against the other team's more-dangerous lines. Some much-needed size has just come back into the lineup along with some more talent on the blue line and that should help, but the standard hope of having all four lines and three defensive pairings dominate the important possession numbers isn't being met consistently.

Ken Holland has some interesting decisions to make in the next month as the Trade Deadline approaches. It certainly feels like there are some names on the roster who aren't going to be around for too much longer and it's getting harder to move the ones that are easiest to push back down to Grand Rapids.

Special thanks to Behindthenet.ca for team rate stats

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