The expectations for the Detroit Red Wings' 2013 season were not that high, but the final "grades" for where the team ended up couldn't be better.
Although the Red Wings' season was on the cusp of something great, it ultimately fell short against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the second round.
Despite losing three straight playoff games to close the year out, the Red Wings made it a point to not only get back into the playoffs for the 22nd straight season, but also to get back on the radar as far as potential threats to win a Stanley Cup sooner rather than later.
Here are the final grades for the team components of the Red Wings' 2013 season.
All grades started at "A+," but some shortfalls bring them down to what will be seen in the coming slides.
The Detroit Red Wings' forward unit was supposed to be the bright spot during the Red Wings' 2013 season, given the uncertainty of the defense and how Jimmy Howard would handle that uncertain defense.
The forwards did not hold up their end of the "bargain" so to speak, putting up just 2.54 goals per game in the regular season (20th in the NHL). Ranking 20th in scoring, for lack of a better word, is awful.
Only seven players on the Red Wings had more than five goals in the 48-game regular season. The Red Wings were shut out four times in the regular season and once again in Game 3 against Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs.
But it wasn't as bad as it sounded for the Red Wings, as the Wings had five players with 10 or more goals in the regular season. The Red Wings also outscored their opponents in 5-on-5 play at a 1.10:1 ratio, good for seventh place in the NHL.
The playoffs saw the Red Wings' average goals per game output go down, but only after losing the last three games of the series to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Final Grade: B-
Summary: The Red Wings offense was middle of the pack this season. It did what it needed to do to get the Red Wings into the playoffs, but it was nothing special in the 14 playoff games. Detroit needs to make some adjustments, including taking Justin Abdelkader off of the top line, but that's a discussion for the "coaching" section of this slideshow.
There is a lot of room to grow with what was shown from the likes of Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson in the playoffs, but it will be interesting to see how they pan out next year with some more young guns on the way as well.
The Red Wings gave up the fifth-fewest goals in the NHL regular season. This was not in any way associated with the Detroit defensemen.
Although the defense became a "patchwork" (at best) due to mounting injuries throughout most of the regular season, it matured later in the playoffs, with the signing of Dan DeKeyser prior to the start of the playoffs.
The Red Wings defense struggled with giveaways all season long. Jimmy Howard was forced to make some timely (and sometimes game-saving) saves to keep Detroit in games.
The seven defensemen with the most games played for the Red Wings in Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Kyle Quincey, Brendan Smith, Brian Lashoff and Ian White combined for 145 giveaways this season, according to their NHL.com player pages.
That is just too many for a 48-game season, strictly speaking, as there were even more "turnovers" that weren't factored in to that giveaway page.
Final Grade: C
Summary: The Detroit Red Wings defense started the season off very slowly, looking as though it could be the main reason why the 'Wings didn't make the playoffs this year. It progressed and looked better as the season went on (and players came back from injuries).
There are a lot of bright spots going forward with the continued development of players like Dan DeKeyser, Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith. The Red Wings defense, as a whole, could benefit from hitting the gym, as they were constantly outmuscled on pucks in the defensive zone, leading to more turnovers.
How do you thank a team MVP for all he has done in helping the team to where it is currently? Why not give the puck over a bunch of times and make him make even more saves as a token of appreciation?
Alright, facetiousness aside, Jimmy Howard was stellar this season. He was a main reason that the Red Wings made the playoffs for the 22nd straight season.
He put up with a lot of giveaways and turnovers in his own zone, allowing some goals, but usually coming up with huge saves to keep his team in games or in the lead.
Howard usually gave his team a chance to win, starting 42 of the 48 regular season games with a 2.13 regular season GAA.
Of course, he faced over four shots more per playoff game than per regular season game, and his GAA rose to 2.44, but his save percentage stayed in the .923 range throughout the season and playoffs.
Howard signed a big contract this season but seemed to be at ease throughout the season, not letting the money go to his head.
Final Grade: A
Summary: Howard did everything but score goals for the team this season, giving them a chance to win games that they had no business being in. Even when he let in a bad goal or two, Howard always bounced back and never quit on his team, even when they stopped skating in front of him.
Howard had to win games for the team this season, and he won just enough to keep his team's playoff streak alive. Going forward with a more solid rebuilt team in front of him, Howard should have a better chance to advance deeper into the playoffs than the past few seasons.
Mike Babcock might not be nominated for the Jack Adams Trophy this year for top coach, but Babcock is still an excellent coach and finds ways to put his team in a position to win.
Babcock was nominated as the top coach in "8 Debate" on NHL.com, but his achievements and accolades go far beyond the awards that he has received. Babcock simply knows how to win and showed this year why he is considered a premier coach in the NHL.
The true sign of a good coach is making adjustments on the fly.
The Red Wings played 10 different defensemen this year; some by choice, others by necessity. Babcock found a way to make the pairs work out as well as they could have given the circumstances (injury and the like).
Where Babcock lost points, however, was in his management of the forwards group. Forcing Pavel Datsyuk to try and play with Justin Abdelkader—a career bottom-six forward—did something that no other player could do.
Shut down Pavel Datsyuk.
Putting an offensively inept player like Justin Abdelkader on the top line showed how little Babcock actually trusted the rest of his team.
According to USA Today, Abdelkader may have "pulled the piano," but for all intents and purposes, his 10 goals and three assists in 48 games showed how talented of a piano player he actually was.
Abdelkader was not meant to "play the piano," but his ineptitude on the first line and Babcock's refusal to move him elsewhere may have cost the Red Wings some wins in the regular season and playoffs.
Final Grade: B+
Summary: No other coach in the NHL could have brought the Red Wings to where they ended up this season, given the injuries they sustained early on in the season. Babcock did a lot of great things this season, but refusing to move Abdelkader to a different line, as well as allowing the Red Wings to lose three straight games after being up 3-1 in the series, leaves some detractors on his season, overall.
There was a lot to love about the Red Wings' power play this year. When a team can get power-play goals with the likes of Brendan Smith, Kyle Quincey and Jakub Kindl on the points, then there has to be something good going on for said team.
Even still, the Red Wings power play finished 15th in the NHL at 18.4 percent. Sure it was middle of the pack, but Detroit still went 0-37 on the road before finally getting a power-play goal to start the season.
That's just incredibly bad and inexcusable.
The "X Factor" on the power play was Damien Brunner. When he was on the point, the Red Wings were in trouble. The Swiss forward had difficulty getting shots through to the net from the point and was much better suited down low off to the side of the net on the man advantage.
Brunner's advantage came as a right-handed versatile player—something Detroit didn't really have in its lineup during the previous year.
The other obvious game-breaker was Pavel Datsyuk with eight power-play goals and 16 power-play points. Although the Red Wings' man advantage took some big strides this season, it is imperative that the Red Wings strike more consistently with the second power-play unit next season.
Final Grade: C+
Summary: There's really no excuse for starting a power play on the road at an 0-37 clip. Sure the Red Wings finished in the top half in power-play percentage, but there were some big points that were left on the board because the Red Wings could not put pressure on other teams with their power play.
The man advantage was often left stagnantly, leaving a stench as the unit departed the ice. Instead of momentum gained, it was often lost. Hopefully this can be one of the things rectified with a longer training camp and regular season next year.
Special teams needed to be "special" for at least half the time. Enter the Detroit Red Wings' penalty kill.
Without Darren Helm, the Red Wings obviously struggled out of the gate.
But with Patrick Eaves playing sparingly on the penalty-kill unit, Drew Miller excelling in blocking shots and closing down lanes and Jonathan Ericsson's surprisingly newly-found confidence in his own zone, the Red Wings were able to get some timely penalty kills and allow only 30 power-play goals against in 164 times shorthanded.
As a whole, the Red Wings need to be more disciplined. They fell in the bottom half of the NHL in times shorthanded for the third straight season.
The Red Wings could also benefit from a more permanent lineup of penalty killers, as it seemed as though one or two of them were being subbed in or subbed out on a fairly frequent basis.
This subbing of penalty killers gets rid of chemistry between the two forwards killing a penalty, leading to more confusion in the defensive zone.
The Red Wings' penalty killing fled them in the playoffs, dropping to 77.6 percent, as the only team to give up double digits in playoff goals so far.
Final Grade: B
Summary: The P.K. could have been better, but it definitely could have been worse. Quite a few games came down to the Red Wings killing a penalty or two in the final period or minutes of a game to preserve a victory. More often than not, the penalty kill would come through and preserve the win.
The Red Wings could benefit from adding another gritty player who can win faceoffs and kill penalties this offseason. Cory Emmerton is a decent short-term solution, but unless he puts on some more weight and learns to win more draws, his effectiveness is short-lived.
All statistics courtesy of NHL.com.
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