If head coach Jeff Blashill and general manager Steve Yzerman got together to compound a letter to the all-knowing and powerful Kris Kringle, it would be a nice mix of items to keep Detroit relevant for the wild card. Including a healthy Jakub Vrana, improved goaltending from Thomas Greiss, and improvement on both the power play and penalty kill. All three of which could help propel the wings forward and secure a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
A Fully Healthy Jakub Vrana
Although the news on Vrana hasn’t had a great outlook, a healthy Vrana can bolster Detroit’s second line and bring an increased amount of production. After being acquired from the Washington Capitals in the Anthony Mantha trade last season, Vrana established himself in Detroit late last season with 11 points (8 Goals and 3 Assists) in 11 games. Detroit’s second line (Robbi Fabbri, Pius Suter and Filip Zadina) is in desperate need of help, and with Detroit’s top line being spoken for, Vrana will find a nice home on line two. If our second line could become productive, it could open the gates for other lines to find more opportunities as well.
It’s not quite time to give up on Zadina because he was such a sought-after draft pick, but 47 points in 118 games along with a minus -31 isn’t too pretty. If Vrana can come back in February for a late push, Zadina, in my mind, would be the obvious choice to move to the third line and hopefully produce more against other teams’ lower lines.
Vrana will also be a nice addition to Detroit’s top line if injuries occur and/or the occasional game Tyler Bertuzzi misses due to Canada’s COVID protocols, hopefully curbing the team’s lack of production with Bertuzzi missing from the lineup.
Better Goaltending from Thomas Greiss
NHL teams have slowly been moving towards a two-goalie rotation, making it crucial for backup goalies to win games and post good numbers. Detroit has seen this in the past, including during one of their Stanley Cup runs (Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek.)
Thomas Greiss paired nicely with Jonathan Bernier last season to give Detroit stable goaltending behind a rebuilding team. The two traded off and gave the Red Wings chances to win games. However, after bringing in Alex Nedeljkovic, Greiss had the opportunity to take a young kid under his wing and help him grow as a goaltender.
Greiss has been far from helpful on the ice this season, currently holding onto a .893 save percentage (SV%) and posting a 3.52 goals-against average (GAA). Not only are these numbers disappointing, but it has also forced Blashill to start Nedeljkovic more than expected. If Nedeljkovic is playing stretches of five or six straight games, he could get burnt out rather quickly, and his performance could slip. Also, with the bad news of Nedeljkovic in COVID protocols, Detroit will lean heavily on Greiss to help win games and stay competitive. He doesn’t need to have a .930 SV%, but improving to slightly over .900 would be helpful to keep Detroit in more games and sneak a few extra points in situations.
Improvement on Special Teams
To take the jump from good to great in the NHL, you need strong special teams. Detroit might not be on the precipice of great, but you could argue they are in the good category. It’s no secret the Red Wings have struggled to score on the power play and keep the puck out of the net on the penalty kill, ranking near the bottom in the league in each — tied for 28th (15.7%) and 27th (76.5%), respectively, in both categories.
Looking at the last five games, Detroit has been 2/14 (14.28 percent) on the power play while also letting up a shorthanded goal, effectively making them 1/14. Detroit hasn’t improved their power play over the last couple of seasons with the additions of Zadina, Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider either.
There is hope for improvement, though. Not only is Santa Claus going to help, but Detroit has improved greatly in entering the offensive zone and puck movement once set up to get good open looks. Seider has been a great quarterback on the power play, while Zadina and Raymond are seeing plenty of scoring opportunities from the circles. Look for the Red Wings to make gradual improvements on the power play as their young guys get more comfortable and they get players back from the COVID outbreak among the team.
I first developed an interest in writing at a young age, always wanting to write and tell stories. I attended the University of Michigan where I studied economics and minored in writing. Content contributor for the Detroit Red Wings at The Hockey Writers.