Detroit Red Wings State of Affairs: Five Pleasant and Disappointing Trends So Far
Despite a three-game losing streak, the Red Wings are still well-positioned in the Atlantic Division. They're tied with 41 points through 31 games atop the Atlantic Division next to Tampa Bay (Tampa holds the ROW tiebreaker). Detroit is ranked in the top-ten in pretty much every important statistical category: offense, defense, power play, penalty kill, shots for, shots against, and even-strength Corsi.
Of course, we knew the Red Wings were going to at least be an ok team heading into this season. We also know that they're going through a bit of an easier part of their schedule right now and that banking points as early as possible is crucial both to making the playoffs and to being well-positioned for them once the regular season ends. Despite being near the top, the Red Wings have room to improve, and that's a very good thing.
With that, I want to take a look at five bright spots for the Wings and the five most-disappointing things about this season so far. Let's go.
Five Bright Spots
- Special Teams - You can go by an old Scotty Bowman standard of taking a team's rank for PP and PK effectiveness and adding them together. Ideally you want that number to be below 10. Detroit is at 9 (2nd-best PK + 7th-best PP). Pittsburgh is at 6. I like a different math though; take a team's power play goals minus shorthanded goals against minus power play goals against plus shorthanded goals for. This figure gives you your overall special teams goal differential. Detroit is +11 on special teams through 31 games. That's best in the league.
- Dem Kids - We were waiting for Gustav Nyquist to fall off the 18.3% shooting pace which earned him 28 goals in 57 games. So far he's halfway to that goal output through 31. Everybody was right, Nyquist's pace did slow... but it didn't crash like some predicted. Tomas Tatar has so far shown a similar ability to keep up with and excel against top-six competition. Riley Sheahan has shown that he can handle tougher minutes and has so far avoided the dreaded "sophomore slump." Finally, Tomas Jurco has improved every line he's been on so far with a great combination of size, speed, and hands.
- Jimmah - We all know how disappointing last season was for Howard. His subpar play was the cherry on top of the shit sundae that nearly led to the end of the Red Wings' playoff streak. This year, he's been back up to his standard as the team's starting goalie. He's kept them in games while they got their feet underneath them and has battled well against opposing netminders. The goalie in Detroit will never be loved by all, but we love him and that's good enough.
- Stephen Weiss - The competition for biggest post-lockout bust looked all but locked up going into this season. Weiss never got going in his first season and showed up already hurt to his second. The first time he was given a chance for a conditioning stint, he lasted two periods. The second one? Well that stuck. Weiss returned to the lineup and has 10 points in 11 games. He's got a long way to go to earn his deal, but the first step on the right track is great to see.
- The Defense is Coming Around - Going into the season, the biggest question for the Wings was whether their defensive corps could handle themselves. While they've certainly had their ups and downs, the Red Wings are one of the best shot-suppressing teams in the NHL. The blueliners clear the crease and get the puck moving up ice quicker. They're also on a better scoring pace than last year (although they still need a bunch more). We'll always find things to complain about with the defense, but this crew is already doing pretty well and they're still getting better.
- Playing Down to Opponents - I'll never ever understand how this happens, but my best guess is that a team which knows what kind of grind the regular season is has become content to try and save as much for the important season and the big games. Losses to teams like Buffalo and Florida will always drive me insane and that doesn't seem to be letting off this season either. Wasting points against teams like Toronto means having to make them up against better teams. While Detroit also tends to get up for those games, relying on being able to always beat good teams is a dangerous game.
- Shootout Woes - Hey, what do you get when you have guys on the roster capable of dangling entire defenses' worth of players out of their nut-cups AND one of the league's best goalies? Apparently you get a mental mess of suck after 65 minutes. The Wings can't score and Jimmy Howard can't stop the opposition from scoring. You don't know whether it's good players practicing against a bad goalie or if it's a good goalie practicing against bad players, but whatever the hell is going on during the skills competition is brutal.
- Jakub Kindl - Part of that "better than advertised" defensive corps is former first round pick Jakub Kindl who spent a lot of time developing before earning a four-year $2.4M contract thanks to a strong playoff performance. Kindl promptly spent the next season un-earning that kind of cap hit and has continued to underperform, becoming a semi-frequent scratch. Kindl may be tied for third on the team for points and second for goals among defensemen, but take away the cushy power play opportunities he's been given and he has as many even-strength points as Brian Lashoff or Xavier Ouellet (who has played 18 fewer games). Reports are that he's been on the trade block since last season and frankly the sooner he can be gone, the better.
- Joakim Andersson - The only forward who has played a game for the Wings this season and has not scored an NHL goal this season. Andersson lost his role as a center last year to Luke Glendening and has failed to produce any offense for them. While zone starts and matchups have not been kind and he's been primarily used in a defensive role, even Luke Glendening and Drew Miller have notched goals this season. We don't have a lot of patience for "offense-only" players who are defensive liabilities. It works the same for defensive-only players who don't create offense too (although to a lesser extent).
- "The Move" Hasn't Happened - We like our team. We sure do like our team. We like them so much that we apparently can't part with any of them. We're looking at a Red Wings team that could very well be on the cusp of being a real contender with one strong move and we keep waiting for that move to come. Obviously nobody wants to see Ken Holland trade people and prospects just for the sake of appeasing some weird need to see EA NHL GM stuff happen, but it will continue to cause aggravation until either it's proven unnecessary in late June or it actually happens. Unfair? Perhaps. I don't care though. Fair doesn't win cups.