It’s midway through the season and so far the Red Wings are doing better than most thought they would do after losing Lidstrom and Stuart. They have a 12-8-4 record with 28 points and are sitting at 4th in the Western Conference and 2nd in the Central Division. The best part of this middle of the road standing is that it has come despite the numerous injuries the team has sustained.
Plague Of Injuries
The Detroit Red Wings have caught the injury bug badly this year. So badly that it’s probably more appropriate to call it an injury plague than an injury bug. Only 8 players have played in all 24 games so far this season, and Bertuzzi, Helm, Samuelsson, Colaiacovo, and Filppula are all still out of the lineup with injuries. Yet, even with all these injuries, the Red Wings have continued to show they’re more than a playoff bubble team, and this is partly due to the strong play of Detroit’s rookies who have been filling in.
Call Ups Showing Up
Many GM’s would have panicked with all the injuries Detroit has sustained, and many would have pulled the trigger on a trade, but that hasn’t happened with the Wings. Instead of selling the farm Ken Holland has opted to trust and rely on it, and that strategy has been paying off.
At 22 years old Tatar is the youngest of the call ups, but also the most skilled. He was Detroit’s 2nd round draft pick in 2009 and has 7 points – including 4 goals – in 16 games so far for the Wings this year. He’s been one of the Red Wings most highly touted prospects for some time and is finally proving to be worth all the hype.
Unlike Tatar, Andersson is considered more of defensive forward. However, he’s just behind Tatar in points with 6 points in 14 games. The 2007 3rd round pick is proving he can be more than just a grinder in today’s NHL.
Brian Lashoff is perhaps the biggest surprise for the Red Wings this year. The rookie defensemen has been playing marvelously and seems to have earned a full time spot with the big club. Lashoff’s older brother Matt was a 1st round pick by the Bruins in 2005 and played in 74 NHL games over 6 seasons, but never established himself in the big league. Brian was acquired by the Red Wings as an undrafted free agent and seems to have established himself in just 20 games in his first season. He recently signed a 3-year extension with Detroit and has tallied 4 points for the team this year. He’s also 3rd among NHL rookies in blocked shots with 29.
When it comes to rookies Damien Brunner has been the Red Wings most productive. He leads the team in goals with 10 and has 18 points in 24 games. However, even though it’s his first year in the NHL, at age 27 (turned 27 today, 3/9/13) Brunner is too old to be considered a rookie and is not eligible for the Calder Trophy, which is rewarded annually to the best rookie.
No Lidstrom? No Problem
Despite the major concerns with the Red Wings defense after losing Lidstrom, Stuart, and Rafalski, the defense is meshing and playing well.
Niklas Kronwall has long been the heir-apparent to Lidstrom’s throne, and now that Lidstrom is gone the prince has become the king. Kronwall is now currently 2nd in the league in most points by a defensemen with 18. He’s only behind Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang in points who has 22. Kronwall also leads the team in ice time and blocked shots with 38. He may not be the perfect human that Lidstrom was, but he is proving to be an elite NHL defensemen.
Another Swedish defensemen has also stepped up big for the Wings. Many criticized the $6.5 million 2-year deal Jonathan Ericsson received this off-season, but so far he’s shown he’s worth every penny. He hasn’t been using his big frame to lay on many big hits, but he has been overpowering other players along the boards and playing very smart in the defensive zone. He also has 10 points in 21 games. If this were an 82 game season he’d be on pace for a career high 39 points.
Although plus/minus is somewhat of a skewed stat, it’s also worth noting that defensemen Kyle Quincey leads the team in +/- at +12.
Z Flourishing With The C
Just as a captain should, Zetterberg is leading the way in scoring for the team. The first years captain has a team leading 26 points, and also leads the way in power play points with 11.
Zetterberg is also tied with Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek for most points in a single game this year with 5. However, Vanek has been slightly better in single game points this season with two 5 point games while Zetterberg has just one.
Grit was what the Red Wings wanted when they signed Jordin Tootoo this summer, and grit is what they got. The new enforcer is tied for 4th in the league for most fighting majors with 6, and According to Hockeyfights.com he was voted the winner of 4 of those fights. The agitating winger is well on his way to becoming a hockey town fan favorite.
Tootoo’s fellow grinder Justin Abdelkader leads the Red Wings in hits with 52. Abdelkader has also been playing on the 2nd line with Datsyuk and Cleary as of late. However, he only has 2 points in 24 games.
Special Teams Not So Special
The power play and the penalty kill have been two of the Red Wings weakest points in the first 24 games. The PP has been operating at a dismal 14.7% and the PK hasn’t been much better at 77.5%. The PP and PK are also both tied for 1st in the league in some less than desirable categories. The PP is tied for most short handed goals allowed at 3 and the PK is tied for most goals allowed at 17.
Home ice advantage has also played a role on the Red Wings power play. The Wings have a 22.6% PP when playing at the Joe, but a 0.0% PP on the road. That’s right, Detroit has yet to score on a road PP despite the fact that they’ve had 33 opportunities to do so. This gives the Red Wings the worst road power play in the league 24 games into the season.
The penalty kill has seen similar results at the Joe and on the road. The PK has been successful 83.3% of the time at home, but just 68.6% of the time on the road.
The Wings have had a nasty habit of blowing leads this year, including blowing a one goal lead late in the 3rd period against rival Chicago which allowed the Black Hawks to continue their remarkable point streak.
Detroit has the 2nd worst leading after the first period win percentage in the league at .429%. The only team that has been worse is Colorado at .400%.
Goalies Heating Up
Jimmy Howard didn’t have the best start out the gate this year, but that was likely due to not playing during the lockout because now he’s on fire. In his last 7 games Howard boasts a 1.42 GAA, a .941 save percentage, and two shutouts.
Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson has also proved to be a very reliable backup goaltender. He has a 1.80 GAA and a .923 save percentage so far this season
It’s also worth noting that rookie goalie Petr Mrazek, who was a 5th round pick in 2010, has a 2.02 GAA and a .922 save percentage in his 2 games played this year. Mrazek started the season in the ECHL, but quickly graduated to the AHL and then earned two starts with the big club. He’s quickly becoming one of the Red Wings most prized prospects.
The goal-tending success this year is partially due to the fact that the Wings are tied for 2nd fewest goals against during 5-on-5 play this season. They’ve allowed just 32 goals during that time. The only team that has been better defensively during 5-on-5 is San Jose, allowing just 30 goals against.
Likewise, the Red Wings 5-on-5 goals against ratio is also 2nd best in the league at 1.38. The league leading Chicago Black Hawks are the only ones ahead with a ratio of 1.59.
As the injury bug subsides the next 24 games should only get better for Detroit. The return of key players like Filppula, Bertuzzi, and Helm should also add a boost to the ailing special teams.
If they continue the way they’re playing now – even with the team they have now – the Red Wings should expect to finish the season somewhere around 5th or 6th in the conference.
Detroit Red Wings writer for The Hockey Writers and Michigan State hockey writer for spartanavenue.com