Through Detroit’s first 25 games, one glaringly obvious observation would be to say that the Red Wings have fallen victim to some very streaky behavior, and after winning 7 games in a row before dropping a 4-2 decision in Colorado last night, the team may be headed into another slump. But before we get cynical and pessimistic about the short-term future of the Red Wings, perhaps we should take a look at one of the main reasons why they’ve lost when they have, and consequently how they can avoid a repeat of their 6 game losing debacle earlier this season.
The simple answer as to why the Red Wings have lost is that there has been a lack of production from their all-star forwards in those losing games. In 9 losses this season Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, and Valtteri Filppula have combined for just 2 goals, and 10 assists, with an abysmal -33 rating. Comparatively, in the 16 games Detroit has won, the same 4 forwards have a collective 31 goals, 42 assists, and a +/- rating of +54. A little math will tell you that during winning efforts the Red Wings’ top 4 averages 4.56 points per game, as opposed to just 1.33 points per game when they lose. With this astounding difference so clearly relating to whether or not the Red Wings win, it’s easy to blame the top players for not being more consistent and costing Detroit several games, but is that really fair?
While it’s true that the Red Wing’s leaders need to play a more reliable game night in and night out, it’s an undeniable fact that they cannot do it all, and need support from the other 8 forwards on the ice on any given night. Everyone has off games and streaks, whether the puck luck simple isn’t there or a particular opponent masters shutting them down, even top players will falter from time to time. The key to a successful NHL campaign then is to have a deep group of forwards capable of stepping up and producing when others are struggling to. As evidenced by their losses when the big names don’t score, Detroit has had trouble doing this. That fact will need to change if the Red Wings want to have a fruitful season and a deep playoff push, and these are the guys who can do that changing.
1. Dan Cleary
After a 2010-11 season that saw the New Foundland native put up career highs in goals and points, Cleary has been distinctly absent from the Red Wings score sheet this season, and while his 5 goals aren’t bad, his mere 3 assists are. ‘Dan The Man’ will need to put up more than 8 points over the next 25 game stretch if the Red Wings want to sustain their position near the top of the Western Conference.
2. Jiri Hudler
In 2008-09 Hudler scored 23 goals and put up 54 points for his best season yet, but his decision to leave and play in Russia for a season may have been one of the worst for his career. When he returned in 2010-11 he scored just 10 goals and had only 37 points. With this being the last year of his contract, many consider Hudler to be playing his final season with the Red Wings if his game doesn’t return to its ’08-09 level soon. 2 goals and 10 points through the 1st portion of the season isn’t good enough for Hudler, and he could find himself sitting on the bench soon if production doesn’t heat up.
3. Todd Bertuzzi
1 goal and 6 assists in 19 games is a far cry from where Bertuzzi’s numbers should be. Often playing along side Pavel Datsyuk, you’d think Big Bert’s numbers would benefit, but so far that hasn’t been the case. Part of the problem may be the fact that Bertuzzi is spending too much time in the box, as he’s 2nd on the team in penalty minutes this season. He’s also struggled with injury (hence only being present for 19 out of 25 Red Wings games), but all excuses aside, he needs to perform better than he has.
4. Darren Helm
The speedster has proven himself a very valuable asset to the Red Wings as a grinder and a penalty killer, but his ability to score is still in question. His speed often gives him great opportunities to score, but Helm has yet to learn how to capitalize on those and put the puck in the net regularly. It’s hard to fault the youngster as he’s still learning the ropes of the NHL, but in his 3rd year with the Red Wings it would be nice to see him with more than 5 points.
5. Justin Abdelkader
While Abdelkader’s tasks are typically similar to those of the aforementioned Darren Helm, his numbers have also been unimpressive so far. Also in his 3rd year of NHL action, Abdelkader has 6 points but 20 minutes in penalties. It would be nice to see those numbers a little closer together before the season is through. If you’re going to put your team shorthanded, you need to be able to chip in with points here and there. The Red Wings would like to see more from Abdelkader, and opponents certainly wouldn’t.
The Red Wings may currently be sitting high and mighty in the West, but it’s a short drop to no man’s land, and they’re far from flawless so far this season, and an injury of unknown severity to Valtteri Filppula last night could deepen the immediate need for improved play from the bottom 8. If these 5 players can even marginally pick up their games, the Red Wings will have a much easier time winning on the occasions that their top dogs are all bark and no bite. If they can’t, the Red Wings could be in for a long season of streaky behavior and a very short playoff tenure.