Red Wings Making the Grade

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After 48 games, the Detroit Red Wings are in a good position to make it to the playoffs for the 24th consecutive season. They currently sit in first place in the Atlantic Division at 28-11-9 (65 points) and are riding a six-game winning streak after their 5-4 win over Florida on Tuesday night.

As was the case last year, the young guns in Detroit have led the way for a successful season so far. Let’s take a look at how the position groups have fared and how they project going into the stretch run for the playoffs.

Centers

After playing in only 45 games last season due to injuries, Pavel Datsyuk is nearing his points total from a year ago with 35 points in 38 games. The 12-year vet from Russia has been incredibly consistent and is scoring on 15.8 percent of his shots so far this season — Datsyuk’s highest shooting percentage since the 2010-11 season when he shot 16.8 percent.

The ex-Florida Panther Stephen Weiss has struggled with injuries for much of his time in Detroit and this year has been the same story for Weiss, who has appeared in only 25 games, recording six goals and 11 assists.

With both Datsyuk and Weiss missing time this season, third-year center, Gustav Nyquist, has made a huge impact for the Red Wings after bursting onto the NHL scene last season. The Swedish center has scored 19 goals and tallied 18 assists on the season.

It seems that Darren Helm has put his injuries behind him and is well on his way to a solid season. Helm, who had played in only 43 games the last two seasons, has played in all 48 games and recorded 20 points on the season.

Joakim Andersson, another young Swedish center, has played in 36 games with one goal and four assists.

The Grade: B+

Forwards

Third-year forward, Tomas Tatar, is having a career season, with a team-leading 21 goals and 13 assists.

Although the young players have played a part in what could be a special season in Hockeytown, the experience of veterans has been invaluable. Veteran players such as Henrik Zetterberg, who is having a bounce-back season after an injury-plagued 2013 season where he only played 45 games. The 11-year veteran from Sweden has played all  48 games so far this season and leads the team in points with 45.

Justin Abdelkader, a Muskegon native and former Michigan State Spartan, is also having a solid season with 11 goals and 15 assists in 40 games. Abdelkader has seen time on the top line this season and his ability to score goals and create plays in front of the net has improved mightily. He also leads Detroit in the +/- category with a plus-nine on the season.

One player I expect to have a significant impact down the stretch for Detroit is Luke Glendening, a Grand Rapids native and former University of Michigan player. Glendening has totaled six goals and three assists on the season and has seen his ice time increase steadily over the last few weeks.

Johan Franzen is the one forward on the team that has not met expectations so far this season. “The Mule,” who has become known for his scoring prowess in the past, is struggling to put pucks in the back of the net as evident by his seven goals in 33 games. Franzen is paid to score goals, and if he continues to struggle I would not be surprised to see his name turn up in trade talks.

The Grade: A

Defensemen

The Red Wings have allowed an average of 2.4 goals per game, good for seventh in the league. A big part of that has been the improved play of the defensemen. Niklas Kronwall has assumed the leadership role on this team following the retirement of the legendary Nicklas Lidstrom. Kronwall, who is known for his devastating hits and ability to score from the blue line, has become a more complete player. With five goals and 22 assists on the season, Kronwall should surpass his season totals from a year ago.

One of most highly debated players on the Red Wings is Jonathan Ericsson. The seventh-year Swedish defenseman has struggled to score, with only two goals, and for much of the season has had a negative +/- rating. It will be interesting to see how Ericsson responds in the latter half of the season.

Kyle Quincey has been a steady veteran presence in a locker room filled with many young players. The former Colorado Avalanche defenseman has scored three goals and tallied nine assists on the season.

One sore spot in Quincey’s game has been the amount of time he has spent in the penalty box. With 39 penalty minutes this season, a team-high, it will be important for Quincy to be more disciplined.

Danny DeKeyser is another young player having an outstanding season for the Red Wings. The 2nd second-year defenseman out of Western Michigan University has recorded 19 points in 45 games and has a +/- rating of plus-five. Look for DeKeyser to continue his strong play into the later part of the season and possibly the playoffs.

The Grade: B+

Goaltenders

For the Red Wings, the weakest link has been their suspect goaltending at times. Franchise goaltender, Jimmy Howard, who is 16-7-7 on the season, injured his groin in a January 10 game versus Washington and has been on injured reserve since. He is expected to miss at least the next few weeks. Howard was having a pretty good season with a 2.11 goals against average and .920 save percentage. He was also the only Red Wings player selected for the All-Star Game.

Petr Mrazek began the season in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins, but has stepped up immensely in Howard’s absence with a 9-3-1 record, including Detroit’s only two shootout wins. The biggest question remains: When will Howard return?

The Grade: B

Overall Team

Forty-eight games into the season, the Detroit Red Wings have exceeded expectations and have the look of a team that could contend for a deep playoff run. A lethal power play unit has been key for Detroit this season. So far, the Red Wings are scoring at 25.4 percent, second in the NHL.

Their penalty kill unit has been almost just as good with an 84.6 percent kill rate, sixth in the league.

Detroit is a balanced team that is ranked in the top ten in both goals per game and goals allowed per game.

The Red Wings’ schedule figures to get tougher with a majority of the remaining games on the road, including ten of the next 13 games. How they respond to this challenge will give us a great look at whether or not this team is ready to contend.

The Grade: B+


Zach Fanko is the host of Octopi Hockeytown for Impact Sports