Are the Red Wings over or underperforming?

The young team is heading in the right direction, but can they keep this up?

There have been ups and downs early in the season for the Detroit Red Wings. At one point, they were below .500, and their scoring was a disaster. They lost four games in a row and conceded five goals in three of them. In the other match, they lost in overtime to the cellar-dwelling Arizona Coyotes. It was an embarrassing loss. With a record of 8-9-3, there was concern being drawn up by fans that this was the level they should be playing at. Besides, this is a young team with tons of room to grow. Why wouldn’t they begin to play like one?

The top six is starting strong

The lineup that the Red Wings continue to put on the ice is solid. It all starts with the first line of Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, and the stud Lucas Raymond. With the perfect combination of skill, speed, and toughness, they’ve made themselves one of the most potent trios in the entire NHL.

They’re finding the back of the net as well as anyone could hope for. Their expected goals for percentage (xGF%) is 18th out of 48 total lines with at least 100 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. Their goals for percentage (GF%) is 17th at 65 percent. The most impressive thing about these numbers is that they’re driving more goals than they’re scoring. The number of high-danger chances the line is getting is sixth out of the 48 lines. They’re an incredible trio that has been the primary reason for the Red Wings’ success.

The line that is 10th in expected goals for per 60 (xGF/60), slightly behind the first line, is Filip Zadina with Robby Fabbri and Pius Suter. They’re also 11th in xGF%, but they’re not scoring as much, unlike the first line. They’re at a below-average GF% (48.98 percent), and it’s in part due to the lack of scoring from Zadina. He has nine points in 25 games, but the analytics suggest that his results in the box score should be better. I wrote about it here.

If Zadina were scoring at the rate that many expected him to be before the season started, that total number would look much different. Everyone knows that he can score. He has showcased that ability numerous times. Hockey can be a vile and unforgiving sport, and right now, that’s what it is for the young Czech forward.

The entire top-six has been driving play with some of the best lines in the whole NHL. They’re moving the puck exceptionally well and showing that just because you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t make a sizeable impact. They’re exceeding the expectations set for them at the beginning of the season.

The craziest part is that Jakub Vrana still isn’t back from injury. It should only get better from here, even if that means splitting up one of the lines. If I had to make an early prediction, head coach Jeff Blashill might permanently move Zadina down to the third line. Vrana is a high-impact player because of his skill set, and the team can’t afford more streakiness. Until he gets it in gear, the top-six isn’t the place for him.

What do the overall numbers say?

Whether the Red Wings are playing to their accurate talent level, or if they’re above or below it, they still have been one of the most fun teams to watch in the NHL. They sit in the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They’re tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are in the first Wild Card, in points and points percentage. It seems like that is the level we should be expecting out of the team.

The Red Wings’ xGF% sits at 50.46 percent, good for 14th in the NHL per Evolving-Hockey. Their regular GF% is below the average line at 48.88 percent. They could arguably be scoring more. An again, without the help of Zadina on the scoresheet, the numbers could look a bit different than they might if he was playing at his regular level. But as far as the numbers go, this is about as close as you will see. The separation in the numbers contributing to both percentages is minimal. With possible flaws in the models for varying reasons, it’s reasonable to assume this is the “mean” of play.

Are they overperforming or underperforming?

A five-game win streak is about as good as it can get. I, like many Red Wings fans, am certainly not complaining. However, I think things could get more fun than they already are.  Of course, getting too unrealistic means nothing. If I threw out ridiculous predictions or ideas, no one would listen. Although, there is a real possibility that these numbers get better, and we see the win streak extend.

It’s not going to be an easy road, but any team can win games in hockey. That’s the reason they play. With the Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, and Colorado Avalanche stacked up as their next three opponents and the latter of the two being on the road, it’s going to be an arduous task. However, they could make some serious cash and extend the streak with the right hand. The sky is the limit for a team with its aspirations.

I think the Red Wings are playing to the level they should be, but there is still some room for them to improve. With a record of 13-9-3, a pace set for about 43 wins, and the numbers suggesting that the goal-scoring isn’t a complete mirage, there is plenty to be excited about this young group of players. I don’t think they’re overperforming by any means, so it’s highly encouraging.