The Detroit Red Wings are still finding their feet under a new coach and one of the areas in which they’ve struggled this season is in puck possession. Getting Pavel Datsyuk back will help. A lot.
Thirteen games into Life After Mike Babcock, the Detroit Red Wings are still very much a work in progress. And even if Jeff Blashill’s team is turning the corner, there’s at least one thing about these Red Wings that looks very different from teams that wore the winged wheel on their chest in the past.
Under Babcock, the Red Wings were a team that prided themselves on either controlling the puck when they had it or chasing it down and getting it back when they didn’t. As a result, they were always one of the best possession teams in the NHL. This season, that status has been turned on its head and the Red Wings are one of the worst. It’s not the be-all and end-all – because after all, the Red Wings are in a playoff spot and Babcock’s Leafs, who have seen a marked improvement in their possession numbers – are in 30th place in a 30-team league.
It’s just kind of strange to see the Red Wings chasing the game the way they have this season. Last season, the Red Wings were fourth in the league in score adjusted Corsi with a differential of plus-489 and after 13 games this season, they’re third worst in the league with a differential of minus-70. Part of that is because they haven’t had the injured Pavel Datsyuk in the lineup this season. Almost more than any other player, Datsyuk is a guy who tends to keep the puck on his tape once it gets there. And another is that as Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom dropped the puck for the ceremonial first faceoff, there’s a good chance the Red Wings were using the close proximity to convince him to suit up for the game.
“I didn’t think our ‘D’ played to the level that we need them to play at tonight,” Blashill said after the Red Wings 2-1 overtime victory over the Maple Leafs Friday night, “and I think that caused us a little bit of strife to get out of our end. I think our ‘D’ are better than they played tonight, I think they’ll be better on Sunday, but they’re going to have to be. I think they’ve done a decent job of jumping up into the play, but I didn’t see that much tonight because we didn’t exit our zone well enough.”
Henrik Zetterberg, who became just the fifth player in Red Wings history after Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman and new Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov to score 300 goals and record 500 assists in a Red Wings uniform, acknowledged the Red Wings still have work to do.
“We can improve on a lot of stuff,” Zetterberg said, “but the good thing is we’ve found a way to win lately. We had a tough stretch after our first three games, but I think we’re playing better as a five-man unit and our ‘D’ is getting involved. Obviously our goaltenders are playing pretty well and that helps.”
Zetterberg bristled a little when he was asked about the Red Wings second period in which they were outshot 8-3 and were rarely in possession of the puck. The Red Wings were badly outshot and in terms of shot attempts, 69-43 in the Leafs favor, it wasn’t even close.
“If they have the puck more, they will spend more time in your end,” Zetterberg said. “That was the case tonight. I don’t think that’s been the case the whole year. Once we get the puck and hold onto, we’re doing a good job.”
Injured defenseman Mike Green will likely be back in the Red Wings lineup for Sunday’s game against Dallas, but this is a team that needs Datsyuk back in the worst way. Datsyuk is skating with the team and is expected to return sometime toward the middle of the month from off-season ankle surgery. Next Tuesday’s game against Washington might be pushing things a little, but the Red Wings expect to see No. 13 in their lineup very soon.
If their possession woes continue, it won’t be soon enough.