In the midst of a ten-game point streak and three-game win streak, the Red Wings seemed to have found their game. The team is over-shooting the puck and goals have been coming as a result.
While the streak has seen Detroit grab hold of second place in the Atlantic Division, recent injuries have hit Hockeytown. Drew Miller (jaw surgery) and Teemu Pulkkinen (dislocated shoulder) are sidelined for at least the next six weeks. Joining Kyle Quincey and Johan Franzen on the IR.
Miller has never been a consistent point producer, tallying just two points this season (1 G, 1 A). But it’s bad timing considering Miller just scored his first regular season goal since March against Arizona this past Thursday.
In his first NHL season, Pulkkinen has a respectable 11 points (6 G, 5 A) through 24 games. Pulkkinen led the AHL in goals (34) last season, splitting time with Detroit and its affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Now isn’t the time for Detroit to take its foot of the gas, but rather it’s time for a player to step up production during the absence of Miller and Pulkkinen.
Jacob Messing: Brad Richards
Richards’ old age has been catching up with him over the past two seasons, but he isn’t out of gas yet. The former point-per-game player has two Stanley Cup’s and a Conn Smythe Trophy on his résumé and is no stranger to pressure. Richards scored his first goal of the season against Nashville last game and now the monkey is off his back.
Richards is undeniably more important than the five points (1 G, 4 A) he has in 15 games. He was signed as a playoff performer, proven by the $1 million bonus Ken Holland offered him if he helps Detroit win two playoff rounds.
The Red Wings have been known as a veteran-laden roster in the past decade, but with a new coach and a youth movement, Richards brings a much-needed veteran presence alongside Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall.
At 35 years old, Richards stepping up doesn’t mean hitting the scoresheet every night, but at least broadening his presence on the ice and continuing to help young players like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and 19-year-old rookie Dylan Larkin.
Brandon Peleshok: Darren Helm
Darren Helm has always been one of the Red Wings’ most versatile players, earning his coach’s trust to play him in just about any situation. He is a strong penalty killer that can complement skilled players on a scoring line and even play on the power play if necessary. With Miller and Pulkkinen on the sidelines for 6-8 weeks, a few doors have opened up for Helm.
Jeff Blashill has not been shy about mixing up his lines throughout the season. As such, Helm has sometimes been a casualty of the numbers game and pushed down to the Red Wings’ fourth line. Pulkkinen’s absence means that Helm can reclaim his spot on Pavel Datsyuk’s wing, where he scored a career-high 33 points last season. While he has struggled offensively this year (1 G, 4 A), the move could be the perfect opportunity for the speedy winger to re-find the back of the net the way he did in 2014-15.
Miller’s injury means Helm will take his place on the Red Wings’ top penalty killing unit next to Luke Glendening. In addition to his ability to take away passing lanes and win puck battles in the defensive zone, Helm’s speed makes him an ever-present threat to score short-handed goals.
The injuries will certainly result in increased ice time for Helm, giving him the chance to prove his value to the Red Wings in a contract year.
Tony Wolak: Joakim Andersson
One player who needs to step up is Joakim Andersson.
With half of the top penalty kill forwards out in Miller, Andersson is afforded the opportunity to slot in for Miller in the meantime. As little as two seasons ago, Andersson was depended upon to kill off a 5-on-3 as the lone forward. Now, he has to hustle to get in the lineup, but now will be given a shot to lock down an everyday spot again.
Looking back to the Nashville game and the previous few games, the penalty kill has not been particularly good. Andersson will be given a shot to kill penalties, but must do his job with Andreas Athanasiou waiting for a shot in Grand Rapids.
If Andersson struggles, he will basically play himself out of the lineup for the rest of the season. Additionally, “Andy” is in his contract year. He now has the opportunity to earn himself a new contract with the Red Wings—or seal his fate as an outgoing unrestricted free agent.
Who do you think needs to step up for the absence of Miller and Pulkkinen? Comment below.