Detroit Red Wings: 5 Reasons to Be Optimistic as They Enter 2012

PJ SapienzaContributor IIIJanuary 4, 2012

Detroit Red Wings: 5 Reasons to Be Optimistic as They Enter 2012

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    As we start 2012 it is time to look ahead at what is in store for the Detroit Red Wings.  Some may worry that they are not in what has became their usual home atop the Central Division standings.  But a look inside the numbers shows that there is no need to worry.

    The Wings have 51 points, only one point behind the division and conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks.  While this makes them the fourth seed for now, they do play Chicago on January 8 and could take over first with a win.

    The Western conference is very tightly-matched this season.  The top 12 teams are separated by only nine points.  Even with a close fight for playoff spots, Detroit should feel very confident as they enter the second half of the season.

The Stats

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    As fans, we all love to look at stats. The stats show many good things for Detroit.

    Detroit leads the league in wins, and come playoff time it is all about winning the game.  Detroit has proven they can do that.  They have wins in 25 of their 39 games.

    The team is not one-dimensional as they play both ends of the ice well.  They are third in goals per game and sixth in goals against.  This puts them second in the league at plus-40 goals.

    Beyond just having such a solid scoring punch, they get scoring from several players.  Nine players have at least seven goals, with four in double digits.  Johan Franzen leads the team with 16 goals.

    Seven players have at least 20 points, with several more very close.  This depth is a great asset.  Not only does it make them hard to stop, it also helps them absorb any injuries to the team.

    Now not all stats are great.  The team is great at home, going 15-2-1, but is less than stellar on the road.  Their sub-.500 road record of 10-11 is an area of concern.  Only six teams in the west have a winning road record and Detroit’s 10 road wins are tied for third in the conference.

    It is true that most teams play better at home than on the road, but the Wings need to address their pretty wide gap in home-versus-road numbers.  They score over 1.5 more goals at home than on the road.  Their 2.54 goals-against on the road drops to an impressive 1.7 when at home.  On the plus side, they have more home games left on their schedule.

    The other concerning stat is the penalty kill.  They are ranked 20th at 81.8 percent.  As good as their defense has played at full strength and as solid as Howard has been in goal, they should not drop this much when trying to kill off a penalty.  On the bright side, they have the second-least amount of penalty minutes in the league.

Career Years

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    Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler and Drew Miller

    By now everyone in Hockeytown knows that Filppula is having a career year.  He already has 13 goals and 33 points.  His career highs are 19 and 40 respectively.  His emergence has been a major reason why Detroit has played so well this season.

    At the start of the season both Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were both struggling, but Filppula’s seven points in their first five games helped the team get off to a 5-0 start.  He has only really had one bad streak during the season, when he went cold for six games; Detroit lost each of those games.  Beyond the scoring and assists, he has also improved his overall play and covers the entire ice now.

    Jiri Hudler had the bull's-eye on him entering the season.  Many fans wanted him traded after his horrible season last year.  After returning from a year in Russia he posted career lows in goals and just looked lost on the ice.

    He started the season on a hot streak with two goals and two assists in the first four games.  He has been inconsistent with several hot and cold streaks so far this year, but just having any hot streak is an improvement over last year. 

    He has already passed last year's goal total with 11, which is good for fourth on the team.  He is on pace to surpass his best season of 23 goals.  He has moved up and sees time on the top two lines now.  That has helped him score nine goals over the past 14 games. 

    Drew Miller is the little engine that could.  He has bounced around the league, playing for four teams in six years, but seems to have finally found a home in Detroit.  He is all hustle and quite simply just produces when he is on the ice.

    He already has seven goals on the season, which is only three off his career best, which he has done twice.  He should easily blow past that this season.  His scoring has not hurt his defense as he is plus-11 as well. 

    While the team will always look for Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Johan Franzen to be the scorers, having Filppula, Hudler and Miller all step up not only gives the team scoring punch on several lines.  It also forces opponents to defend the entire team and not just focus on two or three players.

Jimmy Howard

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    Howard has spent the season making a case for the Vezina Trophy.  He leads the league in wins by five. Yes, five.  He is tied for second in shutouts and fifth in goals against with a 1.99 GAA.

    He has had a pretty heavy work load so far this season, but proved last year that he can handle it.  Still, expect Coach Mike Babcock to play backup Ty Conklin a little more down the stretch.

    His career-best numbers of 2.26 goals against, 37 wins and .924 save percentage all are easily within reach as he is either on pace to break or has already done so.

    On the career landmark list he will be looking for his 100th win in the next game.  It will be his 166th start, which is far ahead of such greats as Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek and Martin Brodeur.

Ian White Has Been Better Than Expected

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    The team went into the offseason wondering if they would need to fill a defensive position if Nick Lidstrom decided to retire.  Luckily, Lidstrom returned, but the team still needed to fill some pretty big shoes as Brian Rafalski decided to retire.

    The team expected Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall to step up and fill some of that void.  Both have played well but the team still needed to add a top-four defensemen.  In a year when there were a few bigger-name players available in free agency the team decided to play it smart and cost-effective as they signed Ian White.

    While not the marquee free-agent name, he has proven to have been the right choice.  At plus-24 he leads the team.  He already has 20 points and should blow by his career best of 26 by the end of next week.  While not a high-scoring defender, he is chipping in goals and should surpass his best there as well. 

    He has proven to be an asset on the power play as he is second on the team in assists.  He has also shown his toughness as he only missed four games after breaking a cheekbone earlier in the season.

    White has been a great addition to the team and yet another reason why Ken Holland is such a great General Manager.

The Youth

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    While you never want injuries on a team there can be a bright side to them.  Injuries have cost players some games but so far not a very high number.  What it has allowed for is younger players to come in and get experience.

    Since they are being called up as a short-term solution, it tends to ease the pressure just a little.  Chris Conner, Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, Fabian Brunnstrom and Joakim Andersson have each had opportunities to play and for the most part have done very well. 

    Cory Emmerton has played in 29 games so far this season and while most of it has been on the fourth line he has done enough to show that he belongs. 

    Jan Mursak started the season with great promise but a broken ankle in a preseason game has had him on the sidelines all year.  He has been rehabbing in Grand Rapids and should be back with the Red Wings by the end of next week.  That will create a logjam on the roster but Mursak will get a chance to show what he can do.

    The experience that these young players are getting is invaluable to them as well as to the team, in case they are called upon later in the season to step into the lineup.