Coming into this season off last season’s disappointing first round exit, the Red Wings appeared to be primed to reclaim their spot among the NHL elite. After seven games predictions are being confirmed by their fantastic 5-1-1 start. It is a fast start built around their play during winning time.
Their play during the third period has been particularly exceptional. In five of their first seven contests, they have not allowed a third period goal, and have outscored opponents 7-3 in third periods overall.
Digging further into their numbers this year show a trend indicating that the final period is where they excel. Outshooting their opponents 92-64 in the third period and 9-2 in overtime. Although raw shot totals are not true indicators of quality attempts, it does shows that opposing teams are unable to comeback or maintain small leads with the ice essentially tilted.
The reasons for the tilt include the expected but exceptional blueline play of Brian Rafalski and the great Nicklas Lidstrom.
In the beginning of his 18th campaign, Lidstrom has come out playing the same lion’s share of minutes and is averaging a touch over a point a game so let’s pencil him in for 90-plus points and a plus/minus rating of +40…ok maybe not, but his strong performance and legendary conditioning point to another elite season.
The rest of the defense has been stout with Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart and Brian Rafalski playing to their expected levels. As arguably the best group of defensemen in hockey, their ability to push the action should allow Detroit to stay in most games and be in a position to get a point in the standings in virtually every outing.
Their exceptional blueline has allowed their forwards to remain on the offensive and apply pressure of on opposing goaltenders.
The forwards have stepped during winning time and been a huge part of the 13.1 shots averaged during the third period. Their marquee guys have led the way in the early goings.
With Johan Franzen on target to match his 2008-09 campaign, his play will be almost as important as his ability to remain healthy for this season will allow the chemistry to blossom.
It is also important to note the addition of Mike Modano to their mix of veteran talent.
Modano came here to win in Hockeytown and play his role out as a third or fourth liner. While it is not great for anyone looking for Modano to provide fantasy value, Modano’s health could prove important as the team comes down the stretch and will need him to spell some on the top lines for some games. He is the epitome of a cheaper insurance policy and is capable of swinging games that could ensure Detroit will have the home ice advantage during their push for the Cup.
Henrik Zetterberg appears to be on the cusp of a stellar campaign and last night’s contest against the Ducks was an example of his ability to score and involve his teammates. Zetterberg has a 40-goal, 40-assist season in him and Pavel Datsyuk could the beneficiary.
Datsyuk scored the winning tally in the final seconds of last night’s contest was thrilling and confirmed that Detroit may have health and luck on their side in addition to their good efforts.
Howard’s good start is just a continuation of the solid numbers (2.14 GAA, .924 SV%) from last year (2.26 GAA, .925 SV%) proving this late bloomer is more than a flash in the pan. With free agency looming, Howard looks to be in line for a raise from his modest 725k and become a stalwart in net for Detroit or another suitor in the offseason.
According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Howard could get a cold shoulder from the Wings who are notorious for not “overspending” on goaltending. This means that Howard’s successful, but limited body of work needs another good season to bolster his value as a potential franchise goaltender.
With all the good signs and motivation, the Wings look to be a strong contender that dominates during winning time. These valuable early season reps will build a swagger many in Hockeytown are familiar with and a deep run is in the making.