Will the Red Wings Keep the Streak Alive?
But this year, the Wings find themselves in a somewhat unfamiliar situation. With just 9 games left in the shortened NHL season, the Wings sit in 8th place in the Western Conference, dropping a spot after Sunday’s loss to division rival St. Louis. With 43 points on the season, the Wings are currently 3 points ahead of Phoenix and 4 points ahead of Dallas, Edmonton and Columbus.
In Detroit’s last 9 games, they play 4 of the top 5 teams in the West - on the road against Chicago and Vancouver, and at home against Los Angeles and San Jose. They will also face Phoenix and Dallas (both right behind the Wings in the playoff race), bottom-dweller Calgary, and Nashville twice.
Obviously the streak being threatened the year after the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom is no coincidence and the shortened season is a bit of an obstacle, especially when injuries have really hurt the team this year, but on the whole, how good are the Wings really this year?
The short answer would be: slightly above average - at this point at least. A lot of things can change as we get near the end of April and into May (as we saw from a certain 8-seed that ran the table after clinging onto their playoff spot last season).
The Wings are currently 21st in the league in goals per game (2.49), tied for 18th in goals against (2.54) and 21st in the penalty kill (80%). On the bright side, their sitting at 8th in in power play goals (27), but it’s been a while since the Wings have been ranked so low across the board.
Team leaders Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have powered the offensive attack, with 35 and 38 points respectively, and Niklas Kronwall has adjusted well to becoming the team’s top defender. He hasn’t had a spectacular season, but getting used to life without #5 on your side requires a long adjustment period.
In net, Jimmy Howard hasn’t been quite as sharp as last year, with his Goals Against Average raising from 2.12 to 2.41. Again, it’s a bit of an adjustment without Lidstrom, but on the whole he’s only seeing about 1 more shot per game so far this year.
Two of the brightest spots outside of the three captains (Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Kronwall) have been youngsters Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist. Brunner has skated with the team all year, compiling an impressive 22 points, with 11 goals in his rookie campaign. Nyquist hasn’t been on the ice quite as much, but has shown an elusiveness on the offensive end that almost bares comparison to Datsyuk - albeit not nearly as jaw-droppingly awesome.
Those two forwards will be key elements going forward in Detroit’s future, but for now, Johan Franzen and Valterri Filppula are the X-Factors on the offensive end. Both players have missed time with injuries and even when healthy, they go through stretches where they can’t find the back of the net, but with Franzen’s strength and excellent game awareness and Filppula’s shifty stick maneuvering, they have the ability to really propel the Wings into more of a legitimate contender in the West.
For now, the Wings are still more well rounded than any of the four teams directly behind them (Phoenix, Dallas, Edmonton, and Columbus), so I don’t think the streak is going to be over this year, but I also don’t know at this point whether the Wings have the manpower to make another playoff run. Last year’s team not only had the Lidstrom luxury, but a few other key players such as Brad Stuart and Tomas Holmstrom are missing, and even then, they weren’t able to get out of the first round.
All in all, expect the streak to continue, but it’s going to take some late season magic for the Wings to find their way into the thick of another deep playoff run.