Red Wings from 30,000 Feet
We're about a fourth of the way through this season, and it's time to take a step back and start to look at different ways we can measure performance so far. After adjusting points accumulated with games played, the Red Wings 25 points in 20 games puts them on pace for 102.5 points and the #5 seed in the East, which is a small step forward from the #8 seed the Wings have slipped in with the last couple of seasons. They'e done this despite missing Datsyuk for half of those games, so there's real reason to believe the Wings can compete for first-round home ice this season. However, to make matters more difficult, the Atlantic has proven to be far more competitive than most experts predicted, with an NHL-leading 7 of 8 teams in the Atlantic with more than 1 point per game. Let's take a look at the team at a high level statistically, and then we'll look at a three key storylines.
Measuring Detroit's Possession
As most of us know, team possession is likely the biggest factor for future success, while we must be careful to note it's not the only factor. Even during this season, smart people are finding new and better ways to measure possession, but there are two ways to measure possession as a percentage that are pretty widely accepted - Fenwick Close (unblocked shot attempts with score close) and Score-Adjusted Fenwick (unblocked shot attempts that are weighted based on the score situation). The Red Wings land at 13th and 10th in those two categories respectively, behind only Boston and Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division. In layman's terms, this means the Wings have been slightly above-average at out-shooting their opponents but not especially great at it. This isn't much different than what the Red Wings were last season, but there's been another key factor that has helped the Wings be a little better than last year.
Jimmy Howard Watch
I wrote back in October that a key issue with last season's team was an uncharacteristically shaky season from Jimmy Howard. He was well below his career average, and I suggested that if Howard had replicated his shortened-season .923 save percentage that the Wings may have been a 5 seed last season. In a happy coincidence, Howard is currently sporting a .922, and the Wings are currently on pace for a 5 seed. Jimmy Howard had plenty of criticism last season and it was deserved, but he deserves little to none with his first 16 starts of this season. If the Wings can find a way to improve their possession up into the top tier, Howard is providing the kind of performance necessary to make the Wings a contender.
The Ridiculous Second Pairing
We talked a lot around these parts about how the second pairing of Kyle Quincey and Danny DeKeyser was a bit of a weakness last season, and very much still an issue this season. I had high hopes early in the season when Babcock experimented with trying out Brendan Smith and DeKeyser as a pairing, but things have since reverted. This is a pretty frustrating decision on Babcock's part, because the difference between Smith and Quincey has been pretty stark.
|Second Pair||Corsi-For %||Minutes Together|
|DDK + Quincey||45.0||127|
|DDK + Smith||55.1||119|
This is a frustrating trend. Detroit saw some serious results out of Smith and DeKeyser as a pairing, but things just grind to a half when DeKeyser gets stuck with Quincey. To make things worse, Brendan Smith actually has tougher zone starts than Kyle Quincey so far this season, and DeKeyser (50.8% CF) has gotten significantly tougher zone starts than Quincey (49.5% CF). The reality is the Q/DDK pairing needs to be taken out back and shot, and Babcock even has a viable replacement for it in Smith/DDK, but unfortunately it seems to be here to stay, especially with the recent injury to Smith. Frustrating table to demonstrate:
|Name||Corsi-For %||O-Zone Start %|
The only thing Quincey really has going for him is a very slightly higher competition quality than Smith and DeKeyser, but that hardly matters if he's not getting results to show for it. I think there's a lot of reason to believe the Wings could improve a little with Quincey playing more sheltered minutes while Smith and DeKeyser play the bigger minutes.
The Tomas Jurco Debate
And finally, we end with Poor Tomas Jurco, the guy who just cannot buy a bounce. He's currently shooting 3%, well below the 10.3% he shot in 36 games last year. We know hockey is a game where bounces are a real factor, and the reality is he's just gotten none - his lone goal on the season was a goal-scorer's goal rather than a product of a lucky bounce. It's more important to look at the process than the results with Jurco, and the process has him leading the team with an impressive 61.5% corsi. It's important to note the caveat that no forward has played easier competition than him, but to be fair, he's not as intensely sheltered as you probably thought:
The X-axis here is zone-starts, and while Jurco may have the easiest competition by a hair, no forward (other than the sacrificial 4th line) has tougher zone starts than him. Jurco's sheltering is real, but it's not nearly as extreme as a 61.5% corsi would have you think - he's been legitimately very good so far this season, and he deserves to stick with the team this season. One thing to keep in mind is that Jurco is also getting the fewest even-strength minutes/game of any forward this season. Production is often a function of opportunity, and Jurco's underlying statistics so far suggest we've got a player here that could use a boost in opportunity.
There's reason for optimism on this team, but the Red Wings appear to still be a piece or two away from being a serious contender. That said, I think there's real room for improvement from within the current roster, even as we look at the way certain players are used. Jurco and Quincey above are prime examples, and Kyle's infamous (but excellent) breakdown of the way Mike Babcock uses his 4th line is another that jumps to mind. These are just a few more things to watch as the Wings wrap up the first quarter of the season.
Statistics and graph courtesy of war-on-ice.com, stats.hockeyanalysis.com, and somekindofninja.com