The Detroit Red Wings have entered the second half of the season. So far it has been a very good season, as they have 29 wins in 45 games and are battling for the lead in the division and conference.
The playoff race promises to be tight. As of now, the top 12 teams are only separated by 13 points. After each win or loss, the Red Wings have bounced between first and fifth place in the conference standings.
Several players are already having career seasons. The entire team will need to keep up their play in order to help the team secure a home ice in the playoffs and hopefully make a long playoff run.
Here are the goals and best case scenarios for each player:
There are many that believe Datsyuk is the best player in hockey. His puck handling is unmatched, and he is truly a force all over the ice. He is tied for the second-most Selke awards with three, and is usually good for around 30 goals a season.
Really the only knock on him is that he is too unselfish. In order to get a push into Hart Trophy consideration, he needs to up his goal count. In truth, his overall play should already make him a candidate, but people tend to get caught up in the goals stats.
He has 13 goals and is in the top five in the league in points. His passes and willingness to set up opponents make him an assist machine. After getting off to a slow start where he only scored two goals over the first 17 games, Datsyuk has picked up the pace with 39 points (11 goals) in the 28 games since.
The Selke could just be named after him. If not for injuries that forced him to miss 26 games last season, he was the favorite to win it again. Year after year, his takeaway numbers are at the top of the league. He often has a huge lead over second place—he has won by 58 and 49 takeaways. Such all around greatness should be rewarded.
People are attracted to the big goals, so for Datsyuk to get a push for the Hart he needs to up his goal production. He will likely need to get 40 goals and 65 assist to be recognized as a Hart contender. The assists should not be an issue.
Franzen is lovingly called "The Mule" in Detroit and it fits. He may not be the flashiest player, but he is a workhorse. He led the team in goals last year and so far is doing the same this year as well.
Franzen just needs to keep on doing what he does. His career best in goals is 34, as of now he should end up right around that number again. A little hot streak could get him above the 40 mark for the first time.
A new element to Franzen’s game this year has been his passing ability. While never bad, he seems to have fully rounded out his offensive game this year.
At the halfway mark, he is only seven assist behind his career best. This improvement has really opened up his goal-scoring ability as well.
Despite taking fewer shots, he is scoring goals at a far better rate. His career best shooting percentage was in 2008-09 with a .138, this year he is shooting .153. Being able to increase his scoring rate while also improving his ability to set up his teammates has been a huge plus for him as well as the team this year.
He should top his career point and assist totals this year. Right now, he is just off of being a point per game player. A bit of a scoring run could also help him reach that mark.
The second half goal for Filppula is very simple: All he needs to do is prove that the first half was not a fluke. He nearly matched his career numbers in the first half of the season, and has been playing impressively all over the ice.
In the second half he needs to be able to continue the roll he has been on. His 15 goals and 22 assists are just off of his best of 19 goals and 28 assists. As the season has gone on, he keeps playing with more and more confidence.
At this point, he seems to be playing beyond a hot streak and has developed into the player the Red Wings thought he could be.
Zetterberg has had a solid first half of the season. He is one of those players whose full impact is not seen on the stat sheet. With that said, his goals are way down and he is looking at one of his worst years, statistically..
He leads the team in shots on goals, but his goal percentage is near the bottom of the team and his nine goals are on pace to be his lowest over a full season.
Zetterberg needs some confidence goals. Many players when they have a cold streak also see their play backtrack in other aspects of the game—that is not the case with Zetterberg. Still, getting a few goals in a short time frame will give him an extra boost.
Will the real Jiri Hudler please stand up? After being bashed most of last season for his horrific play, he started off on a hot streak this season. He followed that with intermittent hot and cold streaks.
Hudler doesn’t need to score every game to be more consistent, but eliminating the long stretches where he disappears would be great.
He has been moved to the top two lines and has improved since then. He shooting percentage is far above his career average .188/.121. He is playing with more confidence and the results are encouraging. Ideally, he stays on the top two lines and is able to at least keep up the pace he is on.
He has a chance to set career highs in a few areas—a more consistent second half will get him there.
Lidstrom is the ageless wonder. At 41 years old, he is still among the best defenders in the game. Lidstrom has seen his ice time go down a little over the past couple of seasons, but he is still above the 23-minute mark.
Good play by the other defenders on the team will allow Lidstrom to keep his minutes down, which will help limit the wear and tear as the season goes on.
Ideally he finishes the season healthy and continuing his phenomenal defensive play, while winning his eighth Norris Trophy.
What a signing White has been. When Brian Rafalski retired in the offseason, many looked at the free agents available and made their wish list. White was not high on many people’s list, but has proven to be invaluable.
As other teams kept handing out big and overpriced contracts, Red Wings GM Ken Holland resisted the urge to follow suit. Instead, he made the right call in bringing in White.
White is having a career year and has proven to be a valuable asset to the team. He quickly adapted to his new team, and has been teamed with Lidstrom often. He leads the team in plus/minus
Like Filppula, he needs to show that it hasn’t been a fluke and that he can sustain his play over the entire season.
Cleary had a career-high 26 goals last season. What made that even more impressive was that he only played in 68 games. Coming into this season, expectations were very high.
While he has not played poorly, he started the season with a 10 game goalless streak. He now has 10 goals on the season, but still isn’t shooting all that well in comparison to past seasons.
Cleary needs to put together a decent goal scoring streak and have some bounces go his way. He has a knack this season for having pucks just miss or getting that unlucky bounce. He needs to have some of these plays start going his way.
Kronwall is having a good season. Last year saw his development take a huge jump, and he has been able to continue that this year.
He is becoming a scoring option and is only two off of his best goal total (11), which he scored last year. He leads the team in blocks, and although not the leader in hits, he is the player other teams watch for.
His crushing hits can change a game and have been named “getting Kronwalled”. The Wings should start a Kronwalled counter in Joe Louis Arena.
Kronwall needs spend the rest of the season continuing his progress and improvement. He gets to spend every day around one of the best defensemen of all time in Nick Lidstrom. Despite playing a different style, he needs to absorb every bit of knowledge he can, as soon he will be expected to be the leader on defense.
Bertuzzi’s days of scoring 40+ goals are long in the past, but he still has a role on the team. While not as punishing as he used to be, he still is willing to lay a body on an opponent. He will be 37 in a few weeks and is in the last year of his contract, he needs to show the team that he needs to be re-signed.
In the second half of the season, he needs to prove that there still is a big enough gap between him and many of the younger players on the team and in the minors.
As seen in the Chicago game on January 14th, he still has plenty left as he scored two goals including a breakaway. He runs very hot and cold though, and needs to put together some more consistency.
With three goals and two assists in the last two games, he needs to keep his current hot streak going.
Holmstrom, like Bertuzzi, is getting too close to 40 and in the final year of his contract. He will turn 38 next week, and has seen his numbers decrease.
Due to his lengthy history with the team, it is difficult to see them parting ways with him, but he too needs to show that he is still a better option than any of the younger players.
One advantage he has is his willingness to park right in front of a goalie. Even when it doesn’t lead to goals for him, his placement in front of the goalies often distracts them enough to where another Red Wing does score.
In the end, his real competition for a spot on next year’s team might be Bertuzzi. He needs to make sure to outplay him over the remainder of the season. Last year, his numbers dropped and they really haven’t picked up yet this season—he needs a second half surge.
Drew Miller is a little ball of energy: He is all over the ice and plays hard every shift. Like some other Red Wings, he is also looking at a career year. While not on one of the top lines, one can’t help but wonder what he could do if given the chance.
At this point, Miller just needs to keep hustling and taking advantage of every chance that he gets. If he gets a chance to move up, he needs to fully embrace it and give the coaches no other choice but to increase his ice time.
Many writers, including yours truly, had predicted a breakout year for Helm; so far it has not happen. Helm needs to improve, if for nothing else just to make sure that I am not wrong. He is one of the fastest players in the league and is always hustling.
One knock on Helm is that he has troubling finishing plays. He still needs to improve in that area. He is getting more ice time, so the opportunity is there; he just needs to take advantage of it.
Abdelkader is yet another Red Wing set to break his personal high marks in goals and assists. He does whatever is needed on the ice and is having a very good season.
Abdelkader just needs to keep up his solid play. He is second on the team in hits and is second among forwards in blocked shots. He has made a spot for himself on the team as a solid checking player. He too is looking at breaking his career high marks in goals and assist. He needs to continue his growth.
Stuart blocks shots, he hits and plays tough defense. He is a fixture as a top four defender on the team. His stats are on par with what he has done over his career.
While he is doing what is expected, it is also a contract year for Stuart. In order to maximize his payday, he needs to bump his numbers up a bit.
Ericsson signed a hefty contract in the offseason that many thought was overpriced. While he may never live up to the hype of being a top four defender, he has improved this year.
One complaint has always been that he doesn’t use his body enough. He would often bump rather than hit somebody and for someone who is 6’5", he underused his size.
So far this season, he has played much tougher. His hits and blocks are up considerably. In the second half, he needs to continue the improvement he has made on getting burned. It still happens, but not as often. Growth in that area would be terrific.
Howard leads the league in wins and has been among the leaders in shutouts and goals against all season. To top it off, he won his 100th career game and earned his first All-Star game.
In the second half, Howard needs to continue his push for a Vezina award. There are several very tough contenders this year, as Tim Thomas, Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist are each having great seasons as well.
In order for Howard to become the first Red Wing since Terry Sawchuk in 1954-55, he will need to get keep his goals against average below 2.0 as well as continuing to lead the league in wins. He currently sits at 1.98.
Conklin was signed in the offseason to bring some stability to the backup goaltender spot and to hopefully ease the burden on Howard to carry the load. Last season, Howard was forced to play too many games down the stretch and the team was hoping to avoid that this year.
Howard’s stellar play has made it difficult to give him a rest, but Conklin’s play hasn’t helped, either.
He started the season great, as he shut out Colorado in his first game. Since then, though, he only has one win in six starts. After that great first game, he gave up seven goals in his next game. On the season, his goals against is 3.28.
He needs to improve his play in the second half. While he doesn’t need to be as good as Howard, he also can’t be over a goal a game worse, either.
These players are very similar in their position with the team. They are young and trying to make a place for themselves on the roster. They have each played in over 30 games so far, but are also healthy scratch candidates as well.
In the second half, they both need to continue to learn and improve their play, which would make it harder not to give them more ice time.
These guys just need to be healthy. Mursak is back after being injured in the preseason, and Eaves is still recovering from a broken jaw.
Both of these players just need to be healthy enough to show the team what they can do, and how much they can help the team.
These players spend a lot of time either going back and forth from the minors to the pros or on the roster as a healthy scratch.
They are young and still learning the NHL game. They need to take full advantage of each opportunity they get. The pressure to do great will be intense as they try to prove themselves, but they must fight the urge to press too hard.
While goals and stats get noticed by fans, coaches also watch for how a player helps to improve the team as a whole. Each time they get a chance, they need to make it more difficult for the team to sit them again.
Although not in the young crowd as the other players, Mike Commodore needs to do well every chance that he gets in the second half as well. His playing time has been limited due to injuries and healthy scratches, but he needs to grab every opportunity he can.
PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist for the Detroit Red Wings and a writer of many other sports. You can follow him on twitter.