With a condensed schedule, everything feels more important because it is. That doesn't really change the fact that the first five games of a season are not nearly enough to tell you what's going on. Some coaches will tell you that you don't even know who you are as a team until you've played 20 games. Sadly, 20 games into the season will be crunch time on GMs to start throwing themselves into the buyer/seller camp because the season will be nearly halfway over.
If you're looking at the first five games as though they're truly representative, then I'd ask you to take a look at the NHL standings from October 20th of 2011. That was about two weeks into that season and the teams were more or less 5 games into their schedules by then. If those marks held, your top two seeds in the Western Conference would have been Dallas and Colorado (who didn't make the playoffs last season). What's more, Vancouver, St. Louis, San Jose, and Nashville would have all missed the postseason.
If you take that same season and work it out to the All-Star game (with everybody in the West having played between 47 and 51 games), you see a different picture than what finished the season, but only one team that actually made the playoffs wasn't in the top 8 at that point (Phoenix).
We know the Red Wings probably aren't good enough to run away with their own division, let alone the conference, but a 5-points-in-5-games start to the season isn't reason to slam the panic button yet either.
Let's look at the games:
- Jan 19th: Detroit 0 - St. Louis 6
- Jan 21st: Detroit 4 - Columbus 3 (SO)
- Jan 22nd: Detroit 1 - Dallas 2
- Jan 25th: Detroit 5 - Minnesota 3
- Jan 27th: Detroit 1 - Chicago 2
So 2-2-1 through 5. Work it out over a season and we're looking at a 19-19-10 record. We're also looking at scoring 80% of all the team's goals in those 19 victories (84 out of 105 goals).
Let's go over the team a bit, looking at some of the stats from behindthenet.ca:
The Wings have scored 1 or 0 goals in 3 of 5 games this season. At 5-on-5, their GF/60 rate of 1.7 is 23rd in the league (it was 2.8 last season. Good for 3rd-best). Only Minnesota mustered up a season-long average that bad last year. For shooting, Despite being doubled up by the Blues in the season opener, Detroit has only been outshot by 7 total shots, but have gotten outscored by 5. We'll cover the defensive aspects later, but Detroit's abysmal 6.5% shooting is a full percentage point lower than the league-worst Kings from last year.
It sounds played out, but Detroit's offensive output will simply not be this poor all season.
16 goals in 5 games isn't going to do it for many teams. I expect scoring will be up in the league as a whole this season, but only Tampa Bay did worse defensively than that pace last year. Fortunately, if you cheat at statistics and throw out the outlying St. Louis game, 10 goals in 4 games looks much better. Even with the season opener drawing things back closer to where they'll logically be, Detroit's even-strength defense has gotten the job done. While overall shot difference is very slightly negative (0.2 per game), Detroit's defense is doing well to limit shots and goals at even strength (1.85 GA/60).
Hoo boy this is a shit sandwich on a fuck cracker, isn't it? Despite Detroit being on the power play for almost six minutes longer than they've been on the PK, the Wings are getting killed on special teams. A 7.7% PP efficiency (which falls to 0% if you do the trick where you throw out the outlying single-game best performance) and the Wings being one of six teams to have given up a shorty already looks bad enough. Then throw in that their PK is humming along at a 68% efficiency and you've got a recipe for failure.
The Wings' offense isn't this bad. Their power play isn't this bad. Their PK isn't this bad...and their defense maybe isn't that good. It's entirely possible that the defensive corps we thought would need help is getting more of that from the forwards to the detriment of goalscoring. Honestly, considering how many times I think I've seen a winger refuse to leave the zone just a little early (to cherry-pick) when he had an opportunity, it wouldn't surprise me if this were a coaching decision.
If so, then it's the right decision so far. Detroit is outdrawing their opponents in penalties to this point. If they're not a team that can dominate both offensively and defensively, then a slightly more defensive 5-on-5 game which can still manage to outshoot their opponents and outdraw them into special teams battles is generally going to find success as the numbers settle down.
Of course, the big caveat here is that the numbers need to settle favorably, and they didn't do that for the Wings last year, who were in the bottom-half of the league in both PP and PK efficiency. Coach Babcock's challenge is going to be to improve the team's special teams without a negative impact on Detroit's even strength advantage.