Postive Signs from the Start of Detroit Red Wings' 2013-14 Season
The Detroit Red Wings opened their regular season with a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres Wednesday night from the Joe Louis Arena.
Mikael Samuelsson and Pavel Datsyuk scored first-period goals 36 seconds apart and Jimmy Howard turned aside 19 shots to secure Detroit’s first win as a member of the Eastern Conference.
After making a few moves to get under the salary cap, the opening day roster looked pretty good in their debut. Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg each logged over 20 minutes of ice time and contributed on the penalty kill.
Newcomers Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss made their presence felt on the second line and nearly connected on a couple of early opportunities.
While Detroit spent a lot of time on the penalty kill, and a defensive zone turnover led to Buffalo’s only goal, there is still a lot to be excited about in Hockeytown.
Here are some positives signs witnessed from the start of the 2013-14 season.
Penalty Kill Was Perfect
Although Detroit gave Buffalo plenty of opportunities to make a game of it, the penalty-kill unit was sensational.
The Sabres had seven chances with the man-advantage and came away empty on all of them—including two long five-on-threes. As coach Mike Babcock told Ansar Khan of mlive.com:
I didn't like killing as much as we did. They had two long five-on-threes, but I thought we were aggressive and didn't give them much zone time. They were under pressure when they were in our zone, so that's a positive thing for us. We had lots of forwards contributing.
One of the biggest contributors was Joakim Andersson, who spent the majority of his 17 minutes on the penalty kill. He also won 69 percent of his faceoffs.
Too much time on the penalty kill hurts momentum and takes away from the team’s strategy to roll four lines, but Detroit hung in, held their power play to just seven shots, and came out perfect on the night.
They Successfully Ran Four Lines
Mike Babcock is a coach who likes to take advantage of his team’s depth.
On Wednesday night it came to fruition as the first goal of the season was tallied by Mikael Samuelsson on the fourth line. Cory Emmerton and Niklas Kronwall added assists at the 12:05 mark of the first period.
Detroit's second goal was scored unassisted just 36 seconds later by Pavel Datsyuk. Daniel Alfredsson registered three shots on goal and Stephen Weiss added one as well in their debuts with Detroit.
Alfredsson touched on Detroit’s strategy with Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press:
“I think we have very good skill on this team, but the basic message to everybody is, play within the structure.”
The third line of Todd Bertuzzi, Joakim Andersson and Dan Cleary generated seven shots and multiple scoring opportunities in their time together. They were, however, the only forward line to record a negative plus-minus.
After all was said and done only Cory Emmerton and Mikael Samuelsson failed to register double-digit minutes on the ice. Emmerton did earn a penalty shot 12:19 into the second frame, but did not score.
From top to bottom Detroit received contributions from all four lines and that will be a staple for the club moving forward.
Newcomers Fit Perfectly
Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss looked at home in their first game as Detroit Red Wings.
Playing on the second line together alongside Johan Franzen, the line generated eight shots on goal and each looked comfortable on their respective power-play lines.
The three have been skating on and off over the preseason due to small injuries, but looked sharp in the opener. As Weiss told St. James, “now it counts.”
Weiss set up Alfredsson with a quality opportunity in the first period, but he was denied. Alfredsson told St. James:
“It was unfortunate, but, I thought we played OK today and had fun out there.”
Alfredsson manned the point on the first power-play unit and was a major factor. Although the line didn’t score, his booming slap-shot provided multiple scoring chances with the man-advantage.
Weiss centered the second power-play line with Dan Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi and looked to play the role of the set-up man. The line appeared to score a goal at the 11:25 mark of the second period, but it was disallowed when Cleary was penalized for goaltender interference.
There is a lot to look forward to this season with a top-six forward corps like Detroit has. With the way the newcomers fit, they will be a very dangerous team in multiple facets of the game.
Jimmy Howard Is in Mid-Season Form
After a solid postseason last year, Jimmy Howard looked to carry his performance into this season.
So far so good.
Howard stopped 19 of the 20 shots he faced in Wednesday’s season opener en route to a 2-1 win. They say your goaltender needs to be the best penalty killer, and Howard did not disappoint.
Detroit was shorthanded seven times in the game and Howard stopped all seven shots faced, including two during five-on-three situations.
Howard was a bit more modest regarding his performance, as written by Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News:
“There’s still a lot of areas we have to work on, (but) it’s nice to get the first game under your belt and first win, as well.”
Howard has finished in the top-10 in most major goaltending categories over his four years as a starter in Detroit. He looked very comfortable Wednesday night and appeared to have no trouble seeing the puck.
His steady play is going to be crucial for the Red Wings this season and they’ll lean on him to shoulder the load. If his start Wednesday is any indicator, this season looks to be his best yet in the NHL.
Veterans Look Healthy
A concern for Detroit last year was the performance—or lack thereof— from some of their veterans.
Wednesday, two of them proved that age is just a number.
Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson combined to play just 11 regular-season games last year, and both looked well rested in the opener.
Bertuzzi skated on the third line with Joakim Andersson and Dan Cleary and logged 12:09 of ice time—2:15 of which was on the power play. When he’s healthy, he can offer a unique combination of grit and skill that will provide Detroit with much-needed secondary scoring.
Samuelsson made a splash in his limited ice time, a team-low 8:27. He scored the season’s opening goal at 12:05 of the first period playing on the fourth line with Cory Emmerton and Drew Miller. He also saw 1:46 of power-play time in the win.
When healthy, Detroit’s veterans create the kind of depth that can carry a team deep into the postseason.