The schedule from hell nearly is over for the Detroit Red Wings. In January and February, the Red Wings have 17 of their 23 scheduled games on the road, including three back-to-back games.
All things considered, the Red Wings have come out of this long road trip, especially the West Coast portion of the trip, with flying colors.
They only lost three times in the month of January and picked up at least a point in seven of the 10 games in February, with one more game remaining in Nashville.
The West Coast trip especially was hard, because Detroit was missing Henrik Zetterberg for all three games after he took a few elbows to the head by Jamie Benn during their 7-6 overtime win last Saturday.
But the Red Wings got three points in three games in California, which has to be classified as a win without their captain.
Resiliency is the Name of the Game
I’ve written about it in the past, but the way this team finds ways to win after slow starts is remarkable. For the second straight game, the Red Wings allowed an early goal and gave the crowd a chance to get into the game.
Matt Irwin took a shot from the point, which found its way past a group of Red Wing defenders and past Jimmy Howard for the 1-0 lead.
The Sharks blitzed the Red Wings since the opening faceoff to the tune of a 14-4 shots advantage through the first 20 minutes. It could have easily been 2-0 or 3-0 thanks to the goaltending of Howard.
First dominant shift some 18:50 into the 1st period.
— George Malik (@georgemalik) February 27, 2015
However, the second and third periods were all Detroit. After allowing 14 shots in the first period, the Red Wings held the Sharks to just eight during the next two periods, and San Jose had three power plays during that span.
The slow starts are concerning, because come playoff time, goals will be harder to come by, as teams tend to play tighter defensively, but the team must have a lot of confidence knowing they have a shot to erase almost any deficit.
Stephen Weiss Needs to Produce
Stephen Weiss has been nonexistent during the month of February and most of January. He did have an assist on Teemu Pulkkinen’s power-play goal against the Sharks, but other than that, he has just one other point in the month of February.
I know Weiss isn’t going to get close to the 60 points he had twice with the Florida Panthers, but at a cap hit of $4.9 million for the next three years, he’ll have to produce more than 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 37 games.
I was hoping he could register at least 20 goals, but with 22 games left, that might seem a bit farfetched. However, if he can get to 30 points and 11-13 goals, that’ll be a somewhat successful season given the obstacles he has had to overcome this year.
Niemi Nearly Steals the Game
The Red Wings couldn’t get one goal past Jonathan Quick on Tuesday, and for the longest time, it looked like they might not get more than one past Antti Niemi on Thursday.
After winning a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2009-10 season, Niemi hasn’t had that level of success in five seasons with the Sharks. Granted, part of his success was the Chicago defense in front of him, but other than the 2012-13 season in which he had a GAA of 2.16 and a save percentage of .924, his stats haven’t been up to par.
Against Detroit on Thursday, however, he looked like the netminder who helped bring the Blackhawks their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. He made 32 saves on 35 shots and kept the Sharks ahead or tied for 58:45. Luke Glendening’s backhand with 1:15 left gave the Red Wings their first lead of the game.
However, if not for Niemi, the Red Wings could have had a lead earlier in the game. Niemi was stellar all night, but his best two saves came late in the second period against Tomas Tatar.
There have been rumors the Sharks will look to deal Niemi before the trade deadline, but if he can continue this sort of play on a consistent basis, you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to trade him.
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Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.