The Detroit Red Wings have not played up to their full potential this year.
The team is currently sitting in fifth place in the Atlantic Division with 52 points after 48 games played. With the long list of injuries still in the forefront of everyone’s brain, the Wings are in a predicament that could cost them their 22-season streak of consecutive playoff appearances.
Some may say that the Red Wings’ time of glory is in the past and that the team is moving into a new generation. I wouldn’t say that. I would say that the Detroit Red Wings have hit a rut this year in their competitiveness, but have made leaps and bounds in their development of the organization’s depth.
Others would say that with the next three games at home against St. Louis, Chicago and Montreal, the Red Wings will not be able to patch up their 6-10-7 home record against such elite and competitive teams.
For me, I believe that the Red Wings are in a perfect position to begin an upward trend.
With Jonathan Ericsson, Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk, Joakim Andersson and Daniel Alfredsson all attempting to make returns early next week, the Red Wings are going to be getting back many key elements in their production section.
Top points one could argue against the Red Wings:
They have too many injuries to make the playoffs.
They are too young and are lacking veteran leadership.
They are not producing enough goals and scoring opportunities to compete in the playoffs.
I listen and hear what everyone’s arguments are, and they are valid. The Red Wings are hurt, they are weak and they have not been producing or consistent. However, they are looking towards the second half of the season with a new attitude and a readiness to accept the challenge of moving up in the standings and becoming a playoff contender.
Two things that the Red Wings have done tremendously well this season:
They have given opportunities to young players and put them where they can learn the most:
The Grand Rapids Griffins (27-11-1) are one of the most successful AHL teams and have provided some of the Red Wings’ most valuable young players. General manager Ken Holland, coach Mike Babcock and the staff of the Grand Rapids Griffins collaborate to pull up top players to fill in for fallen Wings throughout the season. Players like Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening were on no one’s radar prior to this season and now they are some of the most valuable aspects of the Red Wings’ current offense.
They have played well on the road:
Currently, the Red Wings are 14-7-3 on the road and have played tremendous outside of the Joe Louis Arena. The team has overcome long road trips that have pushed them to exhaustion. They have come through adversity to be a mere three points out of a playoff spot. Going into the last 35 games of the regular season, this is where every game counts.
Three things the Red Wings must accomplish in order to compete in the playoffs:
The Red Wings must have simultaneous consistency from Howard and goal scorers:
I believe that the Red Wings have what it takes to put numbers up on the board. When the Wings have been clicking this season, they have put five or six goals up on the board and made mincemeat out of their opponents. The team must start producing goals from all lines and start meshing together. They have consistency from Howard right now and if they can start to add goals to that, they will begin to move up in the standings. If the youngsters can get the ball rolling, then the veterans, once back from injury, will be able to come in with less work in front of them.
2. They must find consistent lines and nurse injuries:
Having a weak third and fourth line has started to become unacceptable for the rest of the NHL. For the Red Wings, having success for your grinders at all times has been a staple for many seasons. The third and fourth lines this season are beginning to be filled by AHL youngsters and old time veterans that are playing two different styles of hockey on the same line. The first two lines of forwards have been mixed and matched because of injuries endured by all six starting forwards at one point this season.
Right now, the team is starting to dwindle down their injury list and started to mesh together a little bit more. Sheahan, Jurco and Tatar have all began to lead their respective lines and the veterans are beginning to fill in. Goaltender Gustavsson is expected to be off injured reserve by the middle of the Red Wings’ home stand. The same goes for Datsyuk, Franzen, Alfredsson and Andersson. The team is beginning to fill out and once the starters are back and ready to go, the team will have a whole new feel to them.
3. The mistakes need to go and the Red Wings need to have clean hockey games:
Kyle Quincey leads the team with a whopping 60 minutes (39th) and not too far behind him is Brendan Smith, with 42 penalty minutes (99th) this season. The team needs to start becoming a bit more disciplined and more intelligent if they want to have any opportunity of making it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I believe that the Red Wings’ veterans are a reason why they have been so good in recent years with staying out of the box while still playing gritty hockey. The youngsters are making mistakes and it ultimately costs them. Although the Red Wings are in the middle of the pack of the NHL in both power play and penalty kill percentage, they used to be No. 1 or No. 2 in both. The time has come for the team to lose the immaturity and begin to start making better decisions. Their season rides on their decision-making.
The Detroit Red Wings have a chance to make the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive season in a row. If they continue to nurse their players to 100 percent health, keep Jimmy Howard confident and consistent and clean up their play on the ice both with penalties and turnovers in the neutral zone, the team can contend for a playoff run this season. If they keep on the same slump that they have gotten themselves into this season, the turnout could be devastating for the Red Wings faithful.
Austin Goodman is a Pact panelist for Impact Sports.
Photo: Austin Pabian/Impact Sports