When last we took a look at the Red Wings' performance so far this season, the club was sitting at 2-2-1 thanks to a missing offense, decent defense, and terrible special teams. Now, five more games into the season we're looking at a club that's fourth in their division with a 5-4-1 record. The Wings are looking up at the Blackhawks, Predators, and Blues. They're also looking at a -1 goal differential.
While I'm sticking with the old standard that you don't really know what you're looking at until the 20-game mark, there's still a bit of pressure in a 48-game season for GMs and coaches to make snap decisions faster than usual. With that, there are some things emerging out of Detroit that hint this might be the case. First of all, Petr Mrazek got his first NHL start in Thursday's 5-1 win over the St. Louis Blues, replacing Jonas Gustavsson and Joey MacDonald who were injured and perhaps supplanting Tom McCollum, who had been backing up Howard since the Gustavsson injury.
What's more is that the forward corps has been shuffled at least a little bit, with Tomas Tatar getting into two games' worth of action to show his NHL mettle and hopefully provide a spark for what's generally been a lack of depth scoring.
Here are the last five games:
- Jan 29th: Detroit 4 - Dallas 1
- Feb 1st: Detroit 5 - St. Louis 3
- Feb 2nd: Detroit 2 - Columbus 4
- Feb 5th: Detroit 1 - Calgary 4
- Feb 7th: Detroit 5 - St. Louis 1
Let's break it down like last time
Offensively, Detroit remains middle-of-the-pack for goal production with 2.70/game. Last season's 2.92 had them at 7th in the league. Their 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio skyrocketed to 1.42 thanks to the St. Louis game; overall, the Red Wings have now outscored their opponents at even-strength by six goals. The 5-on-5 goal-scoring rate per 50, which was a terrible 1.7 after five games has jumped to 2.4. That's still below last season's showing, but it has them just outside the top ten leaguewide. The team's shooting percentage has also leveled up to 9%, which is just about average.
Despite the one most-recent game, Detroit will still need to get more-consistent scoring from their depth guys if they want to win more consistently.
Thanks primarily to special teams, Detroit ranks 20th in the league overall for goals allowed per game (2.90). That number will need to come down and should continue to do so as what I'm hoping is the outlier performance that was the season opener fades into a larger sample. They're also going to need to do whatever it takes (limit shot quality better and/or get better goaltending) to drop their opponents' 10.2% shooting down to a level where they're at least stopping 9 out of every 10 shots or better. Of course, their 5-on-5 sv% is 7th-best in the league, so that problem belongs more in the next section than it does here.
Overall, at 5-on-5 (where about 80% of a hockey game is played), the Red Wings' are tied for fourth-best in the league for goals-against/60 pace.
I covered this much more in-depth before the St. Louis game that Detroit's power play and penalty kill has so far been the death of them. The bottom line is that the PP is only outscoring the opposition by four goals (6 PPG score to 2 SHGA) while the PK is getting outscored by 13. If that trend continues over 48 games, the Red Wings' special teams will be responsible for a -43 goal differential. For reference, last season's unacceptable special teams performance was -11 through 82 games.
I still believe the Red Wings' power play will level out to at least average, but I'm getting more and more concerned about the penalty kill
It's certainly hard to say the Red Wings haven't earned their record through 10 games so far in the season. They've shown that they can skate with teams at even strength and have shown fairly well that they can outshoot teams while drawing more penalties than they take. Both of these are recipes for a successful team. They've hurt themselves badly by failing to take advantage of other team's penalty mistakes and failing to keep them from taking advantage of their own.
Roster-wise, patience and some slow tinkering/transitioning of personnel may be what's called for with this group. I like what Tomas Tatar has brought to the lineup through two games (his energy more than his output). I like that in general, there's at least going to be some tough decision-making to be had when Carlo Colaiacovo and Brendan Smith get healthy. I'd also like to see more than just one game's worth of dominance for Detroit's bottom lines. One game was good, but at the 10-game mark, they are not doing well.