Let’s start with the obvious for the Detroit Red Wings: there’s a lot to be desired after their pitiful 10-1 loss over the weekend to the average-at-best Montreal Canadiens. Just about every facet of the team failed during that Saturday night matchup.
The flip side of the loss is that there’s only one way to go, and that’s up. Of course, a lot of changes need to be made in order to prevent this kind of drubbing from happening again. Perhaps Petr Mrazek needs to adjust his playing style. Maybe Jeff Blashill’s even-strength system is too aggressive for an underwhelming roster. Team discipline needs to be addressed as well.
In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, the Red Wings’ coverage team for The Hockey Writers, shares a couple holiday wishes that they have for Hockeytown’s team. These requests range from roster decisions and management to lineup adjustments and playing style.
Send Henrik Zetterberg Some Help
After leading the team in scoring with a resurgent year last season, Henrik Zetterberg started out strong but has since fallen off early in the 2017-18 campaign. His best games came playing alongside Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar on the top line. Though Anthony Mantha is a supremely talented player, he and Zetterberg just didn’t click offensively when the two were placed on the same line.
To spark Zetterberg, the veteran should slot in between Tatar and Justin Abdelkader on the top line. You can argue Abdelkader is not top-line material—he’s not—but the Michigan-native was only second to Mantha in scoring in November with 11 points in 12 games. Detroit’s newest alternate captain has had success playing with Zetterberg in the past and is able to adjust to the captain’s slower, more deliberate playing style. And based on the latest practice lines, Abdelkader may in fact play with Zetterberg, though putting the 11 forwards through the line blender will likely change this. On the other side, Tatar has shown the ability to be a lethal goal scorer and can find open space on Zetterberg’s wing.
With Zetterberg, Tatar, and Abdelkader on the top line, the rest of the lineup could look like this:
|Justin Abdelkader||Henrik Zetterberg||Tomas Tatar|
|Anthony Mantha||Dylan Larkin||Andreas Athanasiou|
|Martin Frk||Frans Nielsen||Gustav Nyquist|
|Darren Helm||Luke Glendening||David Booth/7th D|
Perhaps with these lines, the Red Wings could improve on their 27th-ranked, 2.7-goals-per-game offense with Zetterberg’s line leading the charge.
Get Petr Mrazek Right
When Petr Mrazek first entered the NHL, the Czech netminder looked like he could develop into a franchise goaltender. That still may be, but the path to accomplishing that has gotten longer rather than shorter.
Mrazek’s bad habits have gotten worse over the past two years. He constantly overcommits to the shooter, sometimes barely moving when the puck is passed, despite having the ability to strongly push laterally. Mrazek’s angles and positioning often leave fans baffled at what he was trying to do. Finally, his rebound control still needs improvement. These issues were pretty evident in the loss to Montreal over the weekend.
However, if the Red Wings can help Mrazek return to form, both the organization and the goalie will be better off moving forward. Detroit would then potentially have a young, franchise goalie on the team. In addition, the Red Wings would be able to get something significant in return if they decided to trade Mrazek instead of signing him to an extension this summer.
Mrazek certainly has the raw ability to be a quality NHL goaltender. His flaws just need to be ironed out before the Red Wings can trust him to start more often.
Play the Kids!
First and foremost, I want to see the kids (especially Mantha) continue to see plenty of ice time while producing and developing. Win, lose, or overtime loss. The 2017-18 season has always been about allowing the Wings’ future superstars plenty of opportunity to excel and so far, they have done a pretty decent job at it. If Mantha can score 25-30 goals, that would be just fine by me.
Aside from Mantha, Dylan Larkin, and Andreas Athanasiou getting proper TOI, I would also like to see Evgeny Svechnikov and Tyler Bertuzzi get more games in Detroit. Both players are rebounding from early-season injuries, but once they are back up to game-speed in the AHL, I’d love to see both wearing the winged wheel more often than not.
See Holland Wheel and Deal
Finally, and perhaps most desired in my opinion, would be for Ken Holland to get bold and try his best to make some aggressive moves that would benefit this team in the long-run. Whether it be trading players, acquiring more draft picks or buying out some less-than-desirable contracts on his team. Whether Holland will be around in Hockeytown in 2018-19 remains to be seen; either way, he can still begin to make some desperately needed moves to help the future of this team.
Saturday night in Montreal was a definitive reminder that the Red Wings cannot win consistently with the way they are structured.
Almost nine seasons removed from any sort of relevancy as a contender, Detroit must face the reality that the “retooling on the fly” approach is not working. Gradually, the team has shown signs of this, losing in the first round in four of their last five playoff appearances to teams that have shown to be more structured.
The Wings have already experienced two six-game losing streaks through 27 games in 2017-18 and are currently sliding down the hill on a seven-gamer (0-4-3). Despite missing the playoffs last season, Detroit’s highest losing streak was five.
On the positive side, it’s been nice to see Larkin and Mantha show signs of stardom in the early going, with the former leading the team in points and latter leading the team in goals. On the other side of the coin, it remains to be seen if they can be superstar cornerstones.
The team has many solid complementary players in Athanasiou, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, and Martin Frk. However, it’s difficult to collectively produce when there isn’t a bonafide stud to lead the squad and make all of the complements better. Nowhere is that more true than with the defense corps.
While Trevor Daley has held his own for the most part, he was not going to be the savior of a patchwork defense. Already giving up 32.7 shots-against-per-game to rank 25th, the breakdowns have been rampant. The only positive thing about Detroit’s blue line is that they will have one of the more coveted commodities at the trade deadline in Mike Green.
With names like Adam Boqvist, Quinton Hughes, and of course Rasmus Dahlin available at the top of the draft order this coming June, there’s not a better time for Detroit to start its rebuild.
Improved Performance from Grand Rapids
Much like their parent team, the defending Calder Cup Champion Grand Rapids Griffins are getting off to a slow start. Through 22 contests the team is 9-10-3, good for 11th in the Western Conference. While the squad has posted 70 goals-for to rank 11th in the league, they’ve been a lax defensive team, giving up 71 goals to rank 21st.
Some candidates for potential call-ups have had underwhelming performances as well.
Evgeny Svechnikov, whose preseason was cut short due to a neck injury, has gotten off to a very slow start. He’s scored just two goals and four points in the 17 contests he’s played. Joe Hicketts has also been cold out of the gate, notching just five points in 22 games.
With the trade of Scott Wilson to the Buffalo Sabres, it appears that Detroit may be making space for Tyler Bertuzzi. In just 12 games, the 22-year-old has scored five goals and nine points, rebounding nicely from a wrist injury. It would be nice to see him get some big-league reps rotating in Blashill’s ever-changing line combinations.
It would be good to see Todd Nelson right the ship and see fellow prospective Red Wings step up their games for NHL auditions in the second half of the season.