7 Storylines to Watch for the Remainder of the Detroit Red Wings Season
An old quote from legendary Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson is applicable in the hockey realm as well:
"You can't tell anything about a baseball team until 40 games have been played."
Different sports, but the same resonating message. In a standard NHL season, judging a team would require around 20 games, but this time around, it's a 12-game mark where fans can start gauging the status of their hockey team.
So far across the league, it's been a season that has experienced every possible outcome.
Going forward for the Detroit Red Wings is a race to get healthier—with their players and their special teams—to tackle the remaining 35 games in the schedule.
Here are seven important topics to think about as the team moves forward into the fast-paced season.
1. Concern over Health of Team and Mounting Injuries
With an abbreviated season, fears arose over teams potentially dealing with a slew of injuries.
One team that hasn't been so lucky so far is the Detroit Red Wings.
They are lacking many bodies up front, including speedy center Darren Helm, dependable winger Mikael Samuelsson and are without backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson, among others.
Coach Mike Babcock has had to be creative with his lineups this season in response to dealing with so many unfortunate injuries.
Hope seems to be arriving, however.
Mikael Samuelsson and Jonas Gustavsson told reporters on Friday that their return is near, and that defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo and Brendan Smith are about "seven to 10 days away." (Mlive).
The Red Wings have played with a different roster for all 13 games this season and have called up five players from Grand Rapids, their AHL affiliate.
2. Production from Detroit's Bottom Six Forwards
With the injuries piling up, the top players on the Red Wings have carried the load for most of the season.
In particular, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and even Johan Franzen have started off their seasons on a good note.
But these key contributors are expected to pull the weight for the team. The other forwards on the team need to pitch in.
Detroit's bottom six have been lackluster all season about putting up points. Drew Miller leads the bottom six forwards with three points in 13 games (NHL.com).
Otherwise, the production has not been there.
Most of the problem might be that injuries have been a part of the Red Wings' season, so far. Samuelsson and Helm are valuable third-line players, and Jan Mursak is a speed option to have as a depth forward.
We may see more goal scoring balanced out across the roster as healthy bodies return to the ice.
3. Goaltending Play
The goaltending combination of Jonas Gustavsson and Jimmy Howard was highly praised by many analysts as being the strength of the Red Wings, heading into the 2012-13 campaign.
All of this changed after Gustavsson pulled his groin in the home opener. This forced Jimmy Howard to elevate his play and also play in 12 of the 13 games this season. The toll that this has taken on Howard can lead to a hit-or-miss performance.
Howard's stats suggest that he is struggling: 6-4-2, 2.88 GAA, .901 Save percentage (NHL.com).
Yet, he has not had much help from a defensive group that is as beaten and bruised as their forwards are.
Babcock decided to give Howard a rest and played Petr Mrazek against the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 7. He was dominant and kept the Wings in the game as the Red Wings won in his NHL debut, 5-1.
Mrazek still remains with the team, but has not seen game time since. He is an insurance option for now when Gustavsson is able to get back and give Howard some rest.
Seeing the progression of Mrazek and the solid play of Howard and Gustavsson will be a treat for Red Wings fans.
4. Damien Brunner
The bright spot for the Red Wings has been from a player who generated little noise coming over from Switzerland.
Before free agency even began, GM Ken Holland announced that he would sign Damien Brunner to a one-year deal. Many fans did not know about the 26-year-old Swiss-born native who played for EV Zug in the Swiss League for four seasons.
Fans are pleasantly surprised to see his outstanding offensive ability translate to the smaller ice in the NHL.
In 13 games, Brunner leads the team in scoring with six goals and has added three assists. He has played on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, and in the process, has made the Red Wings' top line one of the best in the league.
Sadly, he isn't eligible for Calder Trophy consideration due to his age, but Brunner has played very well a quarter of the way through his rookie season in North America.
5. Henrik Zetterberg
The new captain is adjusting to his prestigious role quite well.
A dynamic two-way forward who has played his entire career with the Red Wings, Zetterberg has elevated his game and been a standout, so far.
In 13 games, Zetterberg has rallied the beaten-down Wings with 18 points and steady play. He has been the anchor to the offense and a spark of energy for the team this season.
He has been able to pick up where Nicklas Lidstrom left off as a leader.
Once the team gets familiar faces back on the ice, less pressure will be placed on the shoulders of Z.
Being able to bring the group together once this happens will be Zetterberg's largest task—and a welcome one.
6. Youth Movement
For years, the Red Wings have assembled a roster littered with players in the waning years of their careers.
With a renewed focus on stockpiling the prospect system and increased parity in the NHL, the Red Wings have become more reliant on their youth in the past few seasons.
This season, due to injuries, the Red Wings have had an infusion of youth, in particular AHL talent, who have produced.
Joakim Andersson, Tomas Tatar, Brian Lashoff, Petr Mrazek and Gustav Nyquist have been called up to Detroit.
Lashoff has become a regular in the Red Wings lineup with his steady defensive play and strong puck movement.
Tatar, Andersson, Mrazek and Nyquist have sparingly seen NHL ice in 2012-13, but look to stick with the Red Wings for the duration of this season.
Each player has made a case to stay in the organization and allow some of the money allocated to free agents to be infused into the future of the team.
It's a change of pace that Red Wings fans like seeing—a group of players like Tatar, Andersson and Nyquist capable of carrying the offense and leading the charge to another Red Wings' Stanley Cup.
7. Another Race to the Postseason
The race to the playoffs in Hockeytown seems to have become a guarantee.
Yet every year, there are questions surrounding the status of the Red Wings 21-year playoff streak.
An abbreviated season and the loss of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart has further created doubt.
But the key here is that amid the injuries, loss of defensemen and a less-than-pleasing offseason, the team looks just fine at the 13-game mark.
Scoring has not been an issue since the opening games, and the defense has settled into their new roles. Goaltending has been lackluster, but can be attributed to the emergence of the young defensive players.
Ultimately, the standard here in Hockeytown is winning the Stanley Cup.
This team has the capability to win the division, and if not, be a No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the playoffs.
When healthy, the Red Wings have a lethal offense and have always been considered a strong defensive team.
Uncertainty can be put aside for now as the Red Wings have new wind in their sails.