The Red Wings have just passed the season midpoint of 26 games played, with 22 games remaining. They currently reside in fifth place in the Western Conference, but all of the teams (except Columbus) have played fewer games. Of their remaining 22 games the Red Wings play 14 of them on the road. This will be a challenge for the team as they have not played well on the road and have yet to score a power play goal away from Joe Louis Arena. They are 0 for 36 on the power play away from home. This is a very telling statistic, and unless you can score on the power play you usually lose. The penalty kill has improved lately along with goals against, as the defense seems to have formed an identity with the younger players. The biggest concern lately is a dearth of goal scoring overall. Each item listed above will now be dissected.
Starting with goaltending the Red Wings have received adequate and sometimes stellar goaltending from Jimmy Howard. Howard has played most of the games and has on at least four occasions outright won the game himself. Petr Mrazek played two games while backing up Howard and was 1-1. This was during the time Jonas Gustavsson was out with a groin injury. Gustavsson also played two games to date. As a result the burden has fallen on Howard who has faced many shots during a game, with many of them being prime scoring opportunities by the opposition. If not for Howard’s play, the Red Wings would be looking up from the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
The defense is a definite work in progress with the departure of Nick Lidstrom and Brad Stuart. The current defensemen are: Brendan Smith, Kent Huskins, Jakub Kindl, Ian White, Brian Lashoff, Kyle Quincey, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jonathan Ericsson, and Niklas Kronwall. Brendan Smith missed several games due to a shoulder injury, but is evolving into a top tier defenseman. Kent Huskins is a depth addition and is basically a stay at home defenseman. Kindl has good and bad games and was lacking consistency early, is now playing with confidence. Ian White was out with an injury, and shortly after coming back was a healthy scratch for six games as the team was on a winning streak. White is a good puck moving defenseman, and is now back in the lineup. Brian Lashoff was brought up to the Red Wings due to injuries, has played very well earning him a 3 year contract. Kyle Quincey struggled at the end of last season and at the start of this season, but has steadily improved his play, and leads the team in the plus minus category. Carlo Colaiacovo is currently on injured reserve due to a shoulder injury, and has only played in a couple of games. When healthy he is a very good puck moving defenseman, but his problem is staying healthy.
Jonathan Ericsson has developed into a solid defenseman who is excellent on the penalty kill and has added a mean streak. Niklas Kronwall has performed quite well to date, and has even been in Norris Trophy discussions, but seems to be trying to do much. With a current roster of defenseman (9) it would seem to be too many, but as Ken Holland says, “You never have too many defensemen.”
Now the discussion is the forwards, which is definitely the Red Wings biggest mid season question mark, an area at the start of the season that was not considered an issue.
Each forward will be evaluated by lines starting with Justin Abdelkader. Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Cleary. Abdelkader is primarily a fourth line grinding center who is currently on a line with Pavel Datsyuk. While it doesn’t seem to make sense Abdelkader being on a top line, Coach Mike Babcock has Abdelkader with Datsyuk for his size and mucking ability in the corners and front net presence. The same can be said about Daniel Cleary being on the Datsyuk line. Babcock’s reasoning is the two of them can dig the puck out for Datsyuk. Cleary is in the final year of his contract, and seems to have lost a step or two with his knee surgeries. This move is partly due to the injuries to the forward ranks. Pavel Datsyuk is the best two way player in the NHL, and is also a good set up man. With his current wingers there doesn’t seem much to set up. As a result it seems Datsyuk is trying to do too much at times, and is tired.
The second line has Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, and Damien Brunner. Zetterberg and Brunner are play makers, while Franzen is primarily a shooter. Franzen recently returned from a hip flexor injury and seems to be finding his stride. Sometime Franzen can be frustrating with his inconsistent play, but he can still score goals. Damien Brunner has been a pleasant surprise signing by the Red Wings. He leads the team in goals scored (10) and is not afraid to shoot the puck. He is also a good play maker. Zetterberg is also a good set up man, and can also score. He like Datsyuk seems to be trying to do too much.
The third line consists of Tomas Tater, Joakim Andersson, and Patrick Eaves. This line has provided energy and secondary scoring over the last few games. Tater and Andersson have benefitted from injuries and have been welcome additions. Depending on players returning from injuries they may stay on the team. It seems like they will be in the Red Wing lineup for certain next season, barring trades. Patrick Eaves finally returned after missing a year due a concussion, and has been valuable on the penalty kill and setting up goals on occasion.
The fourth line is the checking/energy line with Drew Miller, Cory Emmerton, and agitator Jordin Tootoo. They also have contributed a few goals.
Current players (forwards) out with injuries are Todd Bertuzzi, Valtteri Filppula, Mikael Samuelsson, and Darren Helm. Bertuzzi has back problems and is out indefinitely. Samuelsson broke a finger after returning to the lineup and is out for at least two weeks. Filppula has a shoulder injury and is day to day. Darren Helm also has a back problem and is also out indefinitely. These players would be a great addition when and if they return, and is a part of the reason for the current goal scoring drought. Tomas Tatar has been returned to the Grand Rapids Griffins, and Gustav Nyquist has been called up to the Red Wings. Coach Mike Babcock claims the move was necessitated by the return of Valtteri Filppula. Filppula will take Tatars place on the roster, and Nyquist will be an extra forward.
If the Red Wings are to regain the services of their injured players, they can be considered a playoff team, but not a Stanley Cup contender. Manager Ken Holland has stated more than once the need for a top four defenseman and a top six forward. A wish which is easier said than done. Whether or not the Red Wings are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline depends on their performance during the next three weeks (March 13, 2013 through March 31, 2013). There will more than likely be many more buyers than sellers at the trade deadline of April 4, 2013. There are many teams competing for playoff positioning, and as a result there will not be many sellers. There are many rumors about players the Red Wings would be interested in acquiring, but at what price? The Red Wings have many talented prospects in their system that can make the transition to the team for the 2013-14 season. Salary Cap wise the Red Wings are in excellent shape, even with the cap going from $70,200,000 to $64,300,000 next season. This reduction will force teams above the $64,300,000 to cut payroll. There may some good selections to add to the roster at that time. The Red Wings also need to sign some of their UFA’s like Jimmy Howard and Valtteri Filppula (if they choose).
Assuming the Red Wings do not make any trades before the trade deadline, are they still a playoff team? Possibly. If they do make a deadline trade(s) they might increase the probability of not only making the playoffs, but also of a possible Cup contender. There are many scenarios that will occur during the last half of the season, but the Red Wings are in a situation for the first time in many seasons where they are in a battle to just make it to the playoffs.