For the majority of the season, the Detroit Red Wings have been seemingly flying under the radar. With Vancouver sitting atop the Western Conference all season long, it’s been easy to forget about Detroit in the Central Division. The Wings have been struggling with injuries over the last couple of months. They’ve played for stretches of time without Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, Brad Stuart, Chris Osgood, and Mike Modano. They’ve also had scares with Jimmy Howard and lately have had problems with Valtteri Filppula.
With having those names all cycling in and out of the lineup, the Wings have stayed on top in their Division and sit seven points behind the Canucks for the top spot in the West. Now they’ve gotten Datsyuk, Cleary, and Holmstrom back in the lineup and getting that crew all back together paid off well on Friday night against Boston in getting a 6-1 win on the road. Getting the band back together like that at forward should start making the teams chasing them in the Central as well as the Canucks who sit ahead of them feel very uncomfortable.
Datsyuk has been the guy that makes it all go. That’s not to downplay the work Henrik Zetterberg also does for the Wings, but with Datsyuk you have a player who’s just as dangerous when carrying the puck as you do when he doesn’t. His ability to steal the puck away from opponents is reaching the level of urban legend with the ways he can do it. He’s multiple time Selke Trophy winner for best defensive forward all while also being one of the team leaders in points.
When Datsyuk missed 19 games with a broken hand this season, the Wings went a pedestrian 10-7-2. Getting points in 12 of 19 games is good, but with those nine losses in the mix, the distance between them and the Nashville Predators was made to be a bit uncomfortable. Being without the likes of Dan Cleary (who was tops on the team in goals scored when he was hurt) as well as goalie agitator and net presence Holmstrom, the offense sputtered terribly.
Lately, the Wings’ issues have come defensively, something that captain Nick Lidstrom was willing to shoulder the blame for. Not having veteran Chris Osgood to spell the heavily worked Jimmy Howard with Osgood and having to rely on journeyman Joey MacDonald has made life in goal tough. Being without Brad Stuart on the blue line has made things difficult as well and youngster Jakub Kindl is getting a trial by fire.
The Wings aren’t without their problems. The rate they’ve been giving up goals of late is unacceptable, especially for coach Mike Babcock who demands tough defensive play from his blue liners. Nick Lidstrom is having a tremendous offensive season, but it’s a bit jarring to see him with a -1 plus/minus rating. We know that that comes with having to play a ton of minutes (Lidstrom averages 23:41 of ice time a night) but having him paired up with Niklas Kronwall for most of the season means he’s got to play a bit more heads up.
That said, if those are the tweaks that Babcock has to make to get the Wings to turn it on and get ready for the playoffs his job is a little easier than one might think. As long as their forward units stay together and healthy, Detroit can continue to lay in the weeds while the Canucks snag the accolades they’ve earned.