Detroit Red Wings Midseason Report Card
After finishing with the leagues best record and clinching the top seed in the west the previous three years, Detroit had been booted from the playoffs each time. They finally got over the hump last year with a solid playoff run that ended with a 4-2 triumph over Crosby and the Penguins.
But early on in the year many wondered whether the Wings would suffer from Stanley Cup hangover. Uncharacteristically sloppy play and difficulty on the power play led many to believe that it would be a down year. After all the Wings have won so consistently that expectations have gotten so high that they can become a burden. Anything less than a second Stanley Cup will be a disappointment and – given the talent and veteran leadership – this team should contend for another Championship.
Halfway through the season the Red Wings appear to be well on track to defend their Stanley Cup. They have piled up the points and built a solid lead in the division that they continue to dominate year in and out. It’s a full 82 game season and it’s hard to play at championship level for 6+ months but consistency is the key to success.
41 games through the year, here is where they stand:
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Both goaltenders have been exceptional: Chris Osgood is 14-2-4, Ty Conklin is 15-5-1. But my vote goes to Pavel Datsyuk who has been the spark for an explosive offensive team. He leads the team in points with 47, scoring 18 goals and adding 29 assists with a plus/minus of 15. Marian Hossa is the runner up and has been dangerous as well, scoring 20 goals and adding 21 assists. In fact, the Wings have five players who are close to 20 goals already and play so well as a team that it’s hard to single out one player.
The Wings have been among the best in the league in scoring. They rank second in goals with 153 and have gotten 30 or more shots on goal in 38 of 41 games. They’ve managed 40+ shots twelve times. They rank first in the league on the power play converting 27.9% of the time. When the defense struggled early in the year, the Wings scoring pushed them over the top in several come back victories. Hossa has been among the best free agent pick ups and along with Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Huddler has created a fearsome scoring attack that at times can seemingly score at will. When they are clicking nobody can stop the Wings offensive rush, the Sharks and Blackhawks can attest to that.
Most of the year, the Wings have done what they do best – keep the puck in the opponents’ zone and take a lot of shots which means scoring chances, goals and fewer shots for your opponent. As a result, the defense has a relatively easy job. It has worked to near perfection most of the time. However, early on in the year they struggled to get the lead and found themselves playing from behind too often. Also, the one thing they have not done well is kill the power play, they rank in the bottom third of the league at just 80.1% and fell below 80 percent for a good period of time. Grade: B
Osgood has played exceptional when he’s been out there but Ty Conklin has done all that’s been asked of him. Granted he has a pretty good defense backing him up, an offense that doesn’t require him to get shutouts and doesn’t face that many shots but has come up big when needed. He’s allowed just 2.32 GAA and has a .914 save percent winning 15 of 21 games.
Mike Babcock inherited a Big Red Machine when he took over as head coach four years ago but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a great coach. He has talented players at just about every position and has the Wings playing great hockey yet again. He also has the Wings ready to play in big time games – Detroit has beaten division rival Chicago in all 4 meetings and manhandled the Sharks 6-0 in their last meeting. He may have a lot more to work with than other coaches but you can’t argue with success.
It’s hard to find fault when you’re close to 30 wins and halfway to 126 points 41 games through the season but if not for an early season stumble, Detroit would be in the lead for the number one seed. None the less, they have dominated the western conference, gong 21-4-4 and 8-1 in their division. They have the second best home record in the west at 16-3-2 and the best road record at 13-4-3. They are on pace to win 50 games for the fourth straight season, surpass the 100 point mark for the ninth straight season and win their division for the eighth straight time. They will also try to win the Presidents Trophy for the fourth time in five years and back to back Stanley Cups since the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons. All in all, it’s been a successful year so far.
The Wings have put themselves in good position for the playoffs. They will likely be either the 1 or the 2 seed depending on how things shake out with the Sharks. If they continue to play the way they have in December and January they could close the gap and clinch the top seed. Either way, Detroit will probably be the favorite to come out of the west with the Bruins being the favorite in the east. Detroit knows that they can improve, especially on defense, and I expect they will be dangerous come playoff time.
ProHockey-fans.com Detroit Red Wings Correspondent