Detroit Red Wings: 10 Keys to Sustaining Success During Second Half of 2011-12
Fans of Hockeytown had little to complain about through the first half of the season. The Red Wings went into the All-Star break with the league lead in points and arguably the best goalie in the NHL, Jimmy Howard.
With the Wings coming back from a road trip that took them through Western Canada and the desert, it is time to regroup and make sure the team is ready for the second half.
There are 10 areas that Detroit can focus on to make the second half just as productive as the first.
This is the elephant in the room for the Red Wings.
For a team that has as many offensive weapons as Detroit does, the man advantage is 15th overall, and a horrendous 2-for-46 on the road. In order to win games and play confidently, the power play needs to start producing.
In reality, the Red Wings' power-play system is one that works and does not need an overhaul. The chances are there, but the puck is just not getting in the net.
A successful power play will not only pay dividends now, but in the postseason as well.
If there is an area that Detroit has less success with than the power play, it is killing off penalties.
As the second least penalized team in the league, this has not led to an outrageous number of goals, but it is a problem all the same. The Red Wings are currently 25th in the NHL, with an 80.2 percent kill-off rate. Strangely enough, however, they have not given up a five-on-three goal all season.
The coaching staff will undoubtedly be focusing on this area during the homestand, and shoring up this area of play will not only help team statistics, but improve in-game momentum as well.
Decide on a Backup Goalie
With Jimmy Howard's finger injury, the Red Wings have temporarily lost a vital part of their success.
As we saw last year after Howard was signed to a large contract, goalies tend to calm down and play much better once a club shows that they have confidence in them.
Joey MacDonald, who was called up from Grand Rapids, seems to be seizing his opportunity. Despite his loss in Phoenix, where he gave up only two goals, "Joey Mac" seems to be part of the short-term solution.
MacDonald has won in the NHL before, and I have little doubt that he can be a solid netminder this season. In order for him to sustain this success, Coach Babcock and GM Ken Holland need to make a decision; either keep MacDonald in net and keep his confidence up or look immediately for a replacement.
Get Jimmy Howard 100 Percent Healthy
It seems that there is no one in Detroit more ready for Jimmy Howard to return than Jimmy Howard himself.
While this shows dedication to his team, the Red Wings should be cautious regarding his return. A broken index finger is not a condition that will likely grow more serious after it has healed, but if Howard returns before it is fully healed, the results could be disastrous.A re-injury would put him out into the playoffs and would seriously hinder a deep run.
Even before his injury, Howard has been a workhorse for Detroit and this setback could provide a valuable opportunity for him to rest his body and mind from the stress of the game.
Acquire a Big Forward
While the Wings are by no means a small team (with the likes of Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi), the second half would be much easier with another big man at forward.
NBC has reported that Travis Moen's name has been linked to Detroit as recently as late January.
The acquisition of a big forward would give one of Coach Babcock's first two lines the power to win more battles in front of the net and hold the puck in the offensive zone.
Get Henrik Zetterberg Scoring
Henrik Zetterberg has proved that he has what it takes to be a top-10 scorer. In the second half of this season, it should be a major goal of the Red Wings to get him scoring goals again. To his credit, he has been assisting on many goals this season, but that is not nearly enough from a player of his caliber.
Call it anything from an extended slump to a bad year, Zetterberg has not been the player Red Wings fans are used to seeing.
Experts and fans alike have been witnesses to Detroit's seemingly genius use of line shuffling to get players scoring, and a special effort needs to be made for Henrik Zetterberg.
By increasing their physicality, the Wings not only will gain an edge on hitting teams, but will also find themselves in a better way come the playoffs when the referee's whistle is seldom used.
As the season winds down, teams tend to start hitting more and more due to the increased importance of every point in the standings. The Wings would be wise to follow suit this year.
Win on the Road
With only 10 road games remaining, the time is now for Detroit to learn how to win on the road. Of the 10 games remaining on the road, nine of them are against competitive, playoff-possible teams.
Obviously, the points in the standings at this time of year would be very important to the team's success, but having a chance to play against a potential first-round matchup away from the Joe Louis Arena is something more. The Red Wings must take advantage of these chances and get used to scoring and winning on the road before they are in an unfriendly arena during the playoffs.
Win Games That Should Be Won
It is a fact of life that in any sport at any level, there will be successful teams and unsuccessful teams.
In the case of the Red Wings, a successful team this year, it is important that should-win games be won. Looking at the Red Wings' record, one will notice inconsistent performance against teams that are far below the not only in the standings, but in talent as well.
With respect to all NHL franchises, it is vital that a team like the Red Wings starts to win these games reliably.
Focus on the Present, Prepare for the Future
At this point in the season, it is very easy to get ahead of oneself.
There is still much hockey to be played, and the season is far from over. Many are already talking about the Presidents' Trophy or even the Stanley Cup Finals. While this is good water-cooler chat, Detroit cannot afford to buy into it.
The most success in the second half will come from taking things one game at a time, and worrying about the trophies when the time comes.