The Grind Line: Red Wings of the Month

There have been ups and downs in the Detroit Red Wings ten games in October. After opening the season with consecutive losses against Tampa Bay and Florida, the Wings went on a six-game winning streak to improve to 6-2-0.

The Wings’ six-game streak was snapped by Boston and followed up by another loss to division-rival Florida.

The good news is the win streak was a team effort that seemed to be carried by a different factor each night, let’s take a look at some of the players who have highlighted the start of the Red Wings season.

Jacob Messing: Gustav Nyquist

10 GP: 3 G, 5 A, 8 Pts., plus-2

Gustav Nyquist got off to a hot start with a three-game point streak to begin the season. He recorded three assists in that time but managed just two shots on net through Detroit’s first four games.

A lack of shooting to that degree is scary when Nyquist is known as a sniper. However, the Goose showed off his shot by firing off 12 shots that saw him tally three goals—and two assists—over the course of Detroit’s next three games.

Nyquist has hit a slight slump in Detroit’s last three games, though, failing to record a point while going minus-four in that time. Given that seven teammates have more powerplay points that he does, his lone powerplay point is slightly worrisome, too, as the Wings hold the 15th spot in team powerplay percentage.

There’s not a whole lot to criticize the 27-year-old Swede for this season as he looks to have a bounce-back year after a career-low 17 goals and 43 points last season.

Nyquist’s eight points are good enough to have him tied for the team lead with newcomer Thomas Vanek.

Tom Mitsos: Thomas Vanek

7 GP, 4 G, 4 A, 8 Pts., plus-5

Vanek has been quite the surprise for the Red Wings. Signed to a one-year, $2.6 million “low-risk, high-reward” deal this summer, the Red Wings are being rewarded early. He has eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven games, having missed the past three games with a lower-body injury.

Heading into Sunday night’s game against Florida, Vanek led the team in five on five goals per 60 minutes (1.78), is second in primary assists per 60 (1.78) and is first in primary points per 60 (3.57), according to Corsica. He also is second on the team in average shot distance (17.32 feet).

That small average shot distance is evidenced by the last goal he scored against Carolina on Oct. 25. Watch below as Vanek finds the soft spot in the defense and rips a one-timer past Cam Ward.

While he might not be the same player who twice scored 40 goals in a season, Vanek still has great hockey IQ and is able to contribute offensively on a team that has struggled to score in recent years.

Vanek’s score-adjusted five-on-five Corsi-for percentage could be better (48.45), but to be fair, there were only four Red Wings who have a CF% of more than 50% heading into Sunday’s game, as the team has struggled to sustain offense this season.

Vanek also has a massively high shooting percentage (30.8) that is not at all sustainable; he has 13 shots in all situations in seven games that will start to decline, especially if he shoots the puck more.

Tony Wolak: Thomas Vanek

7 GP, 4 G, 4 A, 8 Pts., plus-5

When Ken Holland signed Vanek this summer, there was a collective groan across Red Wings social media, “Another veteran?”

Ten games into Vanek’s Red Wings career, the social media temperament has flipped completely.

After being bought out by Minnesota, the 32-year-old Austrian winger took the personnel move personally. Vanek’s point production had dipped from 68 during the 2013-14 season, to 52 in 2014-15 and then 41 points last season. Minnesota simply decided that Vanek’s skills would continue to decline and he was not worth what they were paying him.

There was certainly reason for skepticism this summer when Vanek signed a one-year, “prove it” deal with Detroit. But he’s met that doubt with eight points in seven games with the Red Wings; good enough for first place on the team.

Vanek instantly found chemistry with Darren Helm and Gustav Nyquist and has made his right-handed presence felt on the power play. He hasn’t been afraid to go into high-contact spaces and fight for the puck, fitting in well with Detroit’s new, tougher attitude.

While Vanek’s point-per-game pace may not be sustainable throughout the season, he has provided the value Detroit was looking for when they signed him this offseason. Vanek’s presence on the third line has given the Red Wings three legitimate scoring lines. This also allows Jeff Blashill to deploy lines at will, without worrying too much about matchups.

Ten games in, Vanek is meeting and exceeding expectations.

Brandon Peleshok: Mike Green

10 GP, 3 G, 4 A, 7 Pts., plus-0

Without question, Mike Green was the Detroit Red Wings’ best defenseman during the month of October. He was quite possibly their best player, period. Through 10 games, Green was able to generate three goals and four assists for seven points.

Mike Green
Green has been Detroit’s best defenseman this season. (James Guillory/ USA TODAY Sports)

The 31-year-old rearguard played more minutes on the power play than any other Red Wings defenseman, leading the team with 4:02 PP TOI/GP. Surprisingly, he also led the team’s defense corps in TOI/GP, playing an average of 23:44 a night. Blashill has even used him (albeit, sparingly) on the team’s penalty kill when necessary.

It is an encouraging start to the 2016-17 season for Green, who did not necessarily meet expectations last season. Carrying a $6 million cap hit, Red Wings fans were hoping for a little more offense from the right-handed blueliner, who chipped in with 35 points through 74 games.

For now, the increased role has suited Green well. It is still unclear just when Niklas Kronwall is going to return to the lineup, but it could have an impact on Green’s role on the team. For now, it is apparent that Green has earned himself the trust of his head coach.