If the New York Islanders can be regarded as genuine Stanley Cup contenders this season, then is the same true of the Red Wings? Detroit has certainly looked like a serious threat lately with nine victories in its last 11 contests, including a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders this afternoon.
In a year that was supposed to be an extension of the Red Wings’ efforts to rebuild on the fly, Detroit’s youngsters appropriately led the charge against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Brendan Smith, Tomas Tatar, and Gustav Nyquist each found the back of the net. All three are 25 years old or younger and the latter are the first two Red Wings to reach the 20-goal milestone this season.
Of course, for some players, you’re considered a veteran at the age of 25, but Detroit’s 23-season playoffs streak has prevented them from drafting the super prospects that you sometimes see make the jump from the juniors to NHL with little to no AHL experience. Instead, the Red Wings have focused on slowly developing its players in the minors before gradually being eased into regular roles in the NHL. That approach has paid off as Detroit passes the baton from one generation to the next without enduring a single disastrous season along the way.
One exception to that method is goaltender Petr Mrazek, 22, who has been thrust into service ahead of schedule due to injuries. Lately Detroit has been missing both starting goalie Jimmy Howard and backup Jonas Gustavsson, but what had the potential to be a crippling setback hasn’t slowed the Red Wings. That hasn’t always been thanks to Mrazek, but he certainly did his part today, stopping 21 of 22 shots.
By contrast, Islanders backup goaltender, Chad Johnson, hasn’t been effective this season. Johnson surrendered four goals on just 19 shots against Detroit, making this the sixth time in seven starts that he’s allowed at least three goals.
With a 29-12-9, Detroit has moved into second place in the Eastern Conference with 67 points. The Red Wings are tied with Montreal in terms of points, but the Canadiens have played in two fewer contests. The Islanders are now stuck in fourth place, but are just two points shy in the tight race. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has 66 points ahead of its game against Columbus tonight.