As we stated in mid-September, the Detroit Red Wings came into the current NHL season improved on paper and had the potential to be a lower-ranked playoff seed in the more competitive Atlantic Division. Sure enough, they got off to a better-than-average start to the year, getting at least one point in nine of their first dozen games (7-3-2).
They’ve cooled off somewhat since then, and they’re currently in the midst of a four-game winless streak. But in this bottom-line business, they’re one point behind a tie for the third spot in the division, and they haven’t sagged off the way young teams in Buffalo and Ottawa have done thus far this year.
Indeed, when you look at the improvement in Detroit’s overall game, it’s not at all out of the question for them to be fighting it out at the end of the season to be the fourth (and possibly, the final) Atlantic playoff seed. The hope that preceded the beginning of the year has been followed by positive results, and the best is yet to come for this group.
In one sense, there’s been a continuity of excellence for the Red Wings at the top of their lineup. Star center Dylan Larkin remains one of their leaders on offense, posting 10 assists and 17 points while averaging 21:01 of ice time in 16 games. Larkin is in a contract year, and he’s driving up his asking price with every game.
Sophomore winger Lucas Raymond isn’t on the same points pace as he was last season, but with six goals in 16 games, he’s on pace to improve on the 23 goals he scored last year.
And on the back end, 2021-22 Calder Trophy-winner Moritz Seider is still seeking his first goal of the year, but he’s averaging a team-best 23:01 per game and is only getting better. And 25-year-old Filip Hronek is leading Detroit blueliners in assists (10) and points (11).
Meanwhile, the additions made by Wings GM Steve Yzerman this past off-season are also working out rather well.
Twenty-seven-year-old winger Dominik Kubalik is making the Chicago Blackhawks look foolish for letting him walk away, and with 11 assists and 18 points, Kubalik is one of the league’s better bargains at an annual salary of $2.5-million.
Veteran winger David Perron, like Kubalik, a free-agent signee by Detroit this summer, has chipped in with five goals and 11 points.
And, perhaps most importantly, trade acquisition Ville Husso has come through as advertised in the Red Wings’ net, with a 2.56 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 10 appearances. Detroit’s other goalie, Alex Nedeljkovic has not fared as well (4.33 GAA, .873 SP), so Husso’s contributions have been crucial to the Wings’ overall record.
As noted above, the Red Wings are looking to end their four-game skid, but the NHL’s schedule-maker has presented them with a current, bona fide shot at going on a long, winning rebound. Detroit’s next four games – two road contests against San Jose and Columbus, followed by home games against Nashville and Arizona – are winnable games for them.
Husso has been playing two of every three games since Oct. 27, and if he continues to be sharp more often than not, the Wings can stay in the playoff race through the end of the month. December is a much tougher month for Detroit, but that’s why winning these next five games are important: win them, and you have a cushion; lose them, and you’re bound to be in desperation mode before you know it.
Very few NHL teams have the luxury of a lengthy losing streak in their immediate future, and the Red Wings are not one of them.
Still, Wings fans have to feel good about the ceiling of this team. There are no longer constant blowouts the way there were last season (although an 8-2 loss to the New York Rangers this past Thursday, and an 8-3 defeat at the hands of Buffalo on Halloween night brought back some unwelcome memories).
But Detroit is winning games with their defense – in their seven wins, they’ve allowed more than one goal just twice, and they’ve allowed only seven games in that span – and first-year head coach Derek Lalonde has lived up to his reputation as a winner.
Not everything has gone completely right for this franchise, but enough has that the rest of the Atlantic has to be on notice, if they weren’t already. The Red Wings are for real, and though playoff success might not take place for them this season, they look confident and capable of taking that next competitive step.