Detroit Red Wings: 4 Encouraging Signs for the Defense This Season
Fortunately for the Red Wings, the defense was not one of these failures.
The Detroit defensemen are only partially to blame for this slower-than-usual start, but they have improved incredibly since the first game of the season.
Here are four encouraging signs from the Red Wings' defense.
1. Injuries Mean the Red Wings Will Get Better When Healthy
Injuries are usually not a good thing in sports.
In the Red Wings' case, that is not true.
The Detroit defense, decimated by injuries through the early going of the season, has been passable at best.
With the Red Wings being 4-3-1, there has been talk about how the team has fallen off of the map this season.
This simply isn't the case.
Detroit is simply down three quality defensemen and has been forced to go for each of the first eight games without one or more of their starting six defensemen.
While the rest of the season is still up in the air, the Red Wings should be in prime position to get on a roll once Ian White (leg laceration), Carlo Colaiacovo (shoulder) and Brendan Smith (shoulder) return from injury.
Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports that Ian White could return for the next Red Wings game on Tuesday, so the defense can only go up with his return.
2. The Offensive and Defensive Emergence of Jonathan Ericsson
Last game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Jonathan Ericsson had an assist along with two shots on goal.
Ericsson was also very physical in the game, registering two hits as well as clearing a couple of bodies from in front of the net.
After playing three games in January with no points on the scoreboard, Ericsson has three points in two games in February.
While this doesn't seem like anything over the top, the fact that Ericsson has been logging almost 22 minutes per game (including more than 25 minutes last game against Columbus) means that Ericsson has finally grown into the minute-munching defenseman that Ken Holland likely dreamed Ericsson would be when he was drafted 10 years ago.
Ericsson's ability to step up a bit offensively has taken the pressure off of Niklas Kronwall to produce as much on defense.
It will be critical that Ericsson continue to try to get involved offensively as well as finish his checks solidly defensively if Detroit is to make the playoffs this season.
3. Brendan Smith's Injury Means He Isn't Paired with Kyle Quincey Anymore
On the "Injuries" slide, I noted that injuries are not always a good thing.
However, in the case of the Red Wings, the defense needed a shake-up sooner rather than later.
Brendan Smith was playing a lot of time with Kyle Quincey, and it was hurting the team.
Head coach Mike Babcock was forced to juggle his lines when Quincey went down, and this juggling wasn't necessarily good for the team, but it was good to separate Brendan Smith and Kyle Quincey as a pairing.
The need to separate Smith and Quincey on defense comes from Quincey's inability to teach Brendan Smith the nuances of the game.
As a rookie defenseman, Brendan Smith needs to be paired with a more responsible, defensive-minded defenseman.
Quincey is not that defenseman.
It seems like a substantial number of goals that Detroit has allowed this season were from when Quincey and Smith were paired together and on the ice at the same time.
Quincey's defensive abilities (clearing the puck and getting his stick on pucks that are shot or passed) are clearly lacking in proficiency, and this has resulted in a lack of results when he has been paired with Brendan Smith.
4. Kent Huskins and Brian Lashoff Stepping Up to Fill Shoes
When the Red Wings signed Kent Huskins, I personally couldn't get over how bad of a signing it was.
At least, how bad of a signing I thought it was.
Contrary to my belief at the time, Kent Huskins and Brian Lashoff ended up filling in admirably with the injuries to other defensemen.
Huskins is a minus-one in six games with two shots, five hits and 13 blocked shots, while Lashoff has a goal and is minus-two with five shots, four hits and eight blocked shots.
Both Huskins and Lashoff are not going to be high-impact defensemen for the Red Wings, but when Detroit needs players to step up in the injury absence of other players, Huskins and Lashoff have risen to the challenge.
As soon as Detroit can get fully healthy, look for the team's overall direction to take a sharp turn upward.
Each defenseman will merit more playing time on the basis of previous performance, and this will give the Red Wings' coaching staff a great chance to evaluate their players based on what they have done in their playing time for the team so far.
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