We are a little over a quarter of the way through the 2014-15 season, and the Detroit Red Wings find themselves in third place in the Atlantic Division.
Having won six of their past eight games, Detroit has leapfrogged Boston in the standings and has the possibility of making a push for the top spot in the division.
Despite not making any big signings this offseason and bringing back Kyle Quincey and Dan Cleary, the Red Wings have improved quite a bit from this point last year.
Last year (Through 23 games): 10-6-7, 27 points, 58 goals for, 65 goals against, 4-3-6 at home
This year (Through 23 games): 13-5-5, 31 points, 69 goals for, 58 goals against, 8-2-2 at home
As you can see, the Red Wings have scored 11 more goals this season than they had at this point last season, while giving up seven less goals.
The big stat that sticks out to me is the home record. Detroit was atrocious at home last year with a 4-3-6 mark through the first 23 games. This season, they have won twice as many home games as they have lost.
Defending home ice is extremely important, and the Red Wings have been able to do that and pick up key points early in the season.
In addition to having an excellent home record, the Red Wings are in the top 10 in goals per game (3.0, eighth), goals against per game (2.4, ninth), power play percentage (21.5, ninth) and penalty kill percentage (86.7, fourth).
Scoring goals, keeping pucks out of the net and special teams are the most important aspects of a successful hockey team, and after a slow start in the goal-scoring and power-play categories, the Red Wings have improved drastically, and their record shows it.
So what has been working for the Red Wings so far this season?
Stephen Weiss Producing
After missing 19 of the first 20 games of the season with a groin injury, Stephen Weiss has been producing at the rate we were all hoping he would after he signed that five-year $24.5 million contract in the summer of 2013.
In the past three games, Weiss has three goals and two assists, which already puts him past his point total of four he had last year.
He has been solid playing the wing position with either Darren Helm or Pavel Datsyuk in the middle. Weiss has been a true center throughout his time in Florida, but with the surplus of centers the Red Wings have at the moment, he’s been a great addition on the wing.
I’m sure coach Mike Babcock will end up moving Weiss back to his natural center position once he gets more games in, but as long as Weiss continues to produce, I’d like to see him stay on the wing.
We all know how much the injuries derailed the team last year. Despite missing Pavel Datsyuk and Weiss for long periods of time, the Red Wings have lost less man games this year than they did at this point last year.
Last year, they were already up to 79 man games lost compared to 45 games lost this year. Whether it’s a better training regime or strictly dumb luck, staying healthy was a key coming into this season, and so far, they have been able to stay relatively healthy.
Henrik Zetterberg has yet to miss a game this season, and the young guys like Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar have started every single game so far.
It’s a big turnaround from last year, when Tatar was a healthy scratch for eight of the first nine games, and Nyquist and Sheahan were still in Grand Rapids.
Jimmy Howard Improving
Jimmy Howard didn’t have the greatest season last year. A lot of it had to do with the defense that was in front of him, but Howard has to take part of the blame for allowing some soft goals.
So far this season, Howard has vastly improved, as he is sporting a 10-4-4 record with a 2.09 GAA and .920 save percentage.
The defense in front of him did not change, as the Red Wings struck out on all the top-prized free agents this summer, but Quincey and even Jakub Kindl at times have been solid defensively in addition to the leaders of the defensive corp in Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Danny DeKeyser.
Howard still struggles in the shootout, going 0-3 so far this season. However, the long change during the overtime period means a lot more games are ending in overtime rather than in a shootout.
I expect the NHL to follow the AHL next year and go to 3-on-3 for the final four minutes of the overtime period, which means Howard’s urgency to improve in 1-on-1 situations won’t be as high as in years past.
The Red Wings are trending in the right direction. They’ve gotten quality production from Weiss and their young guys, and the defense in goaltending has been generally solid during the first 23 games.
A trade for a top-six scorer or a top-four defenseman still would be ideal, but we’ll have to wait to see if the Red Wings pull the trigger and make it happen.
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Tom Mitsos is a Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter @tom_mitsos.