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    First Quarter Overview

    After Tuesday’s 2-1 loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers, the Detroit Red Wings are 25% of the way through their season. After a quarter in the books, they are looking up at much of the league at 3-9-2. The only team that is below Detroit in the standings is the Ottawa Senators, who lost a league-leading nine straight games. Expectations were not high for most fans of the winged-wheel going into this season, but a step forward was expected. There are times when this team looks like an improved team, others when it looks like a flashback to last year.  Reflecting on the first 14 games in this campaign, there are areas to build on, and definitely, those that must be improved as we move through this season.

    The Good

    Dylan Larkin: Larkin has been a difference-maker in his first season as captain, leading the team with nine points. He has been shouldering much of the load as well, as only Filip Hronek averages more time on the ice each night. A blemish on the young captain’s record at this point is the -4 plus/minus he carries. Even with that, it is apparent that Larkin looks to lead by example, as most nights his effort can be felt through the screen. He has done this with an inconsistent cast, however, as Tyler Bertuzzi, and Anthony Mantha are not permanent fixtures on his wings. As a side note, watching Larkin and Filip Zadina play together has been a favorite thing from this season. Larkin must continue his intensity on the ice while improving his numbers at even strength moving forward.

    Tyler Bertuzzi:  It has been a while since we have seen Bertuzzi, but in his nine games played, he has seven points.  His .78 points/games played leads the team by a healthy margin. He has done this playing with other players not named Larkin or Mantha. To say he can carry a line is too strong, but it does show his versatility. There is something to be said for a player being able to slot onto a line, and not need time to “gel” in order to produce. Bertuzzi has some traits that make him a very valuable part of this team. He is not afraid to go into tougher areas on the ice, and his high hockey IQ allows him to make the right play when the puck is on his stick. It will no doubt be a boost to the lineup when his health allows him to return.

    Five Versus Five Defense: No, you read that right.  Breathe it in, the Red Wings actually have an above-average defense. Not light years better than average, but to be able to claim that a part of this team is above average is great. The team has only allowed 32 high-danger attempts on net (HDA) according to Hockey-Reference.com. The league average in this department is 35. Additions of Troy Stecher, Jon Merrill, and Marc Staal have given the defense corps a needed facelift. There is still work to be done to this position group, but they had to be pointed out as a positive to this point.

    The Meh

    The Goaltenders: As the title of this section indicates, goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Jonathan Bernier have been below average. As mentioned earlier, this team is middle of the road in HDA. Allowing fewer quality attempts against should in theory elevate a goaltender’s statistics. That is not the case in Detroit. The leader in the clubhouse for save percentage (SV%) is, drumroll, please…..Calvin Pickard.  Yep, Calvin Pickard is leading the pack with a SV% of 0.905. This earns him the honors of number one on the Red Wings, but only number 33 league-wide. This means there is an entire league worth of goalies with a better SV% than Detroit. Greiss settles in ranking 35th, while Bernier pulls up the rear at 59. The goalies have stolen games this season, but have also given them away. This group must improve for the Red Wings to be competitive most nights.

    Lines/Roster Management: Some of the moves with younger players have been questionable. Much of this is due to my biased of preferring to see what you have in young players, rather than underperforming veterans. Givani Smith has shown what he can do with playing time. Let’s not get carried away though, I am not expecting that Smith has a Gordie Howe hat-trick often. It is not about that. There are young players on this team that a decision will have to be made on. This is not the case for the aging veterans. To Revisit Smith, he may have just used his limited opportunity to leap-frog somebody on the depth chart. Sure, the veterans are the more proven commodity, but the young guys may just have more upside.

    Filip HronekI will admit that this may be unfair on my part. I personally expected Hronek to take a step forward this year and look like a top-pairing guy. At this point in the season, he has not shown me that. This may be due to him being the team-leader for time on ice. Only Luke Glendening and Mantha have a worse plus/minus than Hronek. Although this is not a perfect statistic to measure defensive prowess, it is an indicator. Most other analytic categories support the argument that Hronek has been subpar. This may not matter except that the eye-test also supports this. Once again, this may have more to do with the expectations that I set for Hronek and not his actual play. The rest of his season will be something I am watching intently.

    The Ugly

    The Powerplay: This unit has been ranked second to last most of the season. Detroit is only capitalizing on 9.3% of their powerplay opportunities. This portion of the Red Wings special teams has cost them multiple games on the season. Their zone entries are beyond predictable. The predictability does end once the zone is gained either. When they get into the zone, they set up in their umbrella formation, with little movement. The opposition is able to camp out in their passing lanes, waiting on an errant pass, or blocked shot. Most of the time, one of these errors occurs, resulting in the zone being cleared. The Red Wings must improve their play with the man-advantage in order to make up ground on their slow start.

    The Penalty Kill: The Red Wings are so bad on special teams, that I had to make them separate topics. The penalty kill is also near the bottom of the league killing only 70% of the opportunities. This equates to about a goal every two games. This Red Wings team spotting the opponent a goal in a game is a nail in the coffin. Averaging only 1.93 goals/game, giving the opposition a goal, means that you waved the white flag on that game. The combination of the negative effects on both the powerplay and penalty kill just cannot continue to remain competitive.

    The Offense: This may be the only portion of the article that was predictable before the season started. The Red Wings were near the bottom in most offensive categories last year. Although some faces have changed, they were so offensively inferior to other teams, that even a modest improvement would not change much. This year the gap has closed a little, but they still find themselves on the bottom. This team is not built to go fly up and down the ice. An attempt to do so will almost certainly result in a loss. To steal a term from baseball, Detroit will have to manufacture some offense to give themselves a chance moving forward.

    First Quarter Conclusion

    It is just common sense that if I provide a scenario where Team A) Has average defense, mediocre goaltenders, bottom five on both aspects of special teams, and scores the least amount of goals in the league, expectations would be low. Unfortunately, that is what Red Wings fans saw the first 14 games of this season. Not all is negative though. They lost a good part of their starting lineup due to the NHL COVID protocol, and have had injuries as well. This team cannot compete if they sustain many injuries, as they are thin. But we have seen that if Detroit can stay healthy, they can stay close with anyone. They will hope that is the case as they look to make up ground in the second quarter of the season.

     

     

    Brandon Gunn
    I am a husband, and a father of two that along with my family has rescued two dogs. I am an avid, lifelong Detroit sports fan for better or for worse, Red Wings season ticket holder, and live in a house divided (I root for UM, she roots for OSU). I have played hockey my entire life, and help coach my son’s hockey team. If you aren't laughing, you arent living. Beware of sarcasm.

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