Red Wings

Review: The Wings at the quarter point of the season

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First let’s get this out of the way. The Detroit Red Wings just played 3 games in 4 days with 2 of those games inside a 24 hour period. Coming out of the other end of things the Wings won all 3 games against St. Louis, Edmonton and LA scoring 10 goals, allowing just 4 against and has put Hockeytown at ease for the moment.

So here we are, 12 games played and a 7-4-1 record, currently sitting as the 5 seed in the Western Conference. Normally I wouldn’t even point out the seeding at a quarter mark but with only 36 games to go in a shortened season things will go quick.

Detroit has seen themselves dig into the well of Grand Rapids often and early but have been getting solid play from kids they have asked to step into the lineup. To add, coach Mike Babcock has had his work cut out for him this year dealing with injuries and the loss of some pretty significant names in the offseason such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart, Jiri Hudler and Tomas Holmstrom.

Still though expectations for this team do not waiver, nor should they. After all this is Hockeytown and making the playoffs has become a birthright for a generation of Red Wings fans.

Meanwhile GM Ken Holland looks like he has done it again scooping up Damien Brunner from the Swiss League as a free agent which has most definitely enabled fans to get over Jiri Hudler. Brunner is leading Detroit with 6 goals as the puck just finds the kid and he buries it.

Jordin Tootoo is the other free agent pick-up that has had a positive impact.

Tootoo long known in Nashville as a pest, started to get a reputation of not living up to his skill level forechecking wise. Factor in some off ice issues and you can see why Nashville grew tired of him. So enter Ken Holland (again) and a new home for Tootoo. Once a hated rival, now No. 22 is easily becoming a fan favorite as he doesn’t hesitate to drop the gloves to provide a spark.

What I’ve seen so far is a veteran team that doesn’t carry a game with them into the next. But I also see a core of forwards that look a little slow from time to time. This is to be expected as the schedule calls for some difficult runs in it. I also see new captain Henrik Zetterberg has fit nicely into his new role (I might get bashed for this, I thought Hank should of got the “C” instead of Lidstrom). He looks rejuvenated with the “C” and playing with Brunner. Zetterberg has also displayed tireless effort and carried the Wings when he needed too. At 18 points so far, Z ranks 3rd in the league and has points in 10 of 12 games.

What needs to be improved on

First, I would like to see more scoring out of the third and fourth lines. This is something that has picked up in the last week so I guess I’m saying it has to continue and be more consistent.

Second, is special teams.

The power play shouldn’t be as bad as it is. Detroit features enough talent up front to score more. A 14% success rate and a 24th ranking is just not acceptable. The Wings could really use a heavy shot to anchor a power play unit on the blue line.
The penalty kill was and area I was worried about before the season started. The last 2 years it has slipped and has gotten worse with the loss of Brad Stuart and Nicklas Lidstrom. Helm being out with a back injury also hasn’t helped matters either. The days of Draper and Maltby killing penalties or Lilja blocking shots have passed. Asking Dats and Z to wear themselves out on this unit all the time isn’t fair. A back checking forward and defensemen would be nice at the deadline since this is a problem that not only will lose you a playoff game but a series.

Third, Franzen has been a ghost. Will the man who got a 10-year deal please show up? He is only 32 and use to be a force on the power play. He also use to not be such a penalty machine (he leads Detroit in PIM with 31 with a lot of those minutes being a result of him getting outplayed ). He somehow has 9 points, 3 of which are goals. Of the 6 assist, most are secondary. He has one multi point game which came against St. Louis  in a 5-3 win on February 1st. He doesn’t have a game winning goal and one of the three goals he has is a power play goal. Most nights Franzen skates he looks like a common role player, not the power forward we’ve seen in years past and what he should be. It’s time Johan earns some pay or find himself a player the Wings chose to buyout at the end of the year.

Fourth, I first want to say I am a Kronwall fan but he’s not a No. 1 defenseman.

Can he be a good No. 2 playing along the side of another equal defenseman?

Yes.

He can also be one of the best defenseman leading a 2nd pairing as he was in years past.  I don’t know if he is out of shape or logging too many minutes. In today’s NHL a No. 1 that logs 25 minutes is common place. Kronner looks spent at times and like Franzen is taking bad penalties. Also too much ice time has made him a negative player. In fairness he is getting 24 minutes a game (League rank is 27th) because Detroit needs him too.  I’m not going to crush Kronwall for his -4 rating as it is more of a team stat. Detroit just needs him to play smarter and Kronwall needs help.

The bright spots… so far.

But with the criticisms there’s certainly the bright spots which revolve around Jimmy Howard, Jonathan Ericsson What I’ve been pleased with is these 3 things.  Jimmy Howard, Jonathan Ericsson and of course the Euro twins.

First, as usual the goalie takes a verbal assault in Detroit. The starting quarterback, closer and starting goaltender in Detroit are highly criticized positions in which some players simply can’t handle.

Thankfully Jimmy Howard is one that can.

So far this season Howard has been peppered with shots. His GAA is 2.78 which is a little high but something you can probably attribute to a weak penalty kill. Overall though Howard has been very good and a guy the Wings should bring back next season (since he is a free agent) as long as it’s reasonable.

Ericsson looks like a different player since stepping on a puck in practice and perhaps getting some confidence knocked into him. He’s playing like the guy many saw while breaking into the rotation a few years ago but it’s the little things I really notice with Big E. A lift of the stick here, a well played puck there, positioning on the boards and using his reach and body. I’ve often been critical of Ericsson, but I will be the first to give kudos when I see improvement and with Ericsson I see that guy the Red Wings were hoping to get last year when they gave him a new deal.

As for Datysuk and Zetterberg, you really can’t say enough good things about the two.

Datsyuk is like a fine wine who only gets better with age. He’s a great playmaker that makes everyone on the ice better. He’s a great pick pocket and a true surgeon with the puck on the end of his stick.

Zetterberg on the other hand like Datsyuk is a great two-way player, scorer and one-on-one defender. But the bottom line is he’s simply just really good at every aspect of the game.

Originally I predicted Detroit as a middle seed in my season preview and at this point I’m confident they’ll end up in the four or five spot heading into the playoffs.

 

About Jason Bray

Detroit Sports Columist. Joined The Majors staff in 2012 covering the Detroit Lions.

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