12 Things We've Learned About the Detroit Red Wings Early on in 2013-14
The Detroit Red Wings have now played 12 contests in the 2013-14 season, and already there have been some surprises along the way.
Although there have few good things that have come out the young season so far, there's been more bad and ugly things of late.
With the Red Wings' winless streak stretching to four games and a Western Canada road trip coming up this week, here are 12 things that can be concluded so far from this Red Wings team.
Although some of these conclusions may seem trivial, each holds something that can help Detroit be better if addressed promptly or get worse if ignored.
Offense Is Even Worse Than Last Year
The Red Wings have seen their offense steadily decline over the past three years.
In 2011-12, the Red Wings put up 2.92 goals per game (seventh in the NHL), while last season, they had 2.54 goals per game (20th in the NHL). This year, through 12 games, the Red Wings offense is putting up just 2.25 goals per game, ranking it 24th in the NHL.
The ultimate slap in the face came Saturday night to the New York Rangers when the Red Wings gave up three goals to a team that had been averaging just 1.5 goals per game coming in.
Nobody should be playing the blame game (yet), because outside of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, the Red Wings skaters have been equally bad at putting the puck in the net.
Without the Power Play, This Offense Would REALLY Be on Life Support
One of the brighter spots for the Red Wings through 12 games has been their power play.
While it isn't top 10 in the NHL right now (currently 11th at 21.6 percent), it does have eight goals in 37 chances.
The Wings have just 27 goals all season, meaning if they didn't have those eight on the power play, they would really be struggling instead of sitting in the top half of the Eastern Conference.
This power play needs to continue to click, but Detroit also needs to shoot the puck more, as the team ranks just 19th in shots on the power play with 53 shots in 37 tries.
Detroit Needs to Play with the Puck More Often
The Red Wings haven't been playing with the puck as much as they're used to doing, and it has shown up on the scoreboard.
Detroit is not drawing the opportunities it used to on the power play, with just 37 chances in 12 games (23rd in the NHL).
Through 12 games, Detroit has allowed the ninth-most shots on goal per game (32.4 shots against per game). That is down from allowing the seventh-fewest shots on goal last season (27.5 shots against per game).
Giving up an extra five shots per game will really put an extra burden on Jimmy Howard going forward in this season. It is important that the Red Wings start playing with the puck more often and not give up as many shots against.
The Line Juggling Has to Stop
What will Detroit's lines look like from one game to the next?
Mike Babcock has seen fit to change up the lines after almost every game since the Red Wings' current four-game slide. When he finally decided to split up Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, it should have raised more red flags than green ones.
Datsyuk and Zetterberg playing together had represented the bulk of the Red Wings' offense, but the two have looked nothing short of stagnant in five-on-five play since getting split up.
Long story short, leave the lines for five games. Some players don't have immediate chemistry with others, and due to various injuries in the preseason, the chemistry wasn't there to start the season.
Changing the lines every night kills chemistry, and it takes longer to get going in the same direction offensively.
Tomas Tatar Must Stay on the 2nd Line
Tomas Tatar has played in just four games this season. All of them have been Red Wings losses.
It would be easy to assume, then, that Tatar had some factor in each of these games, but he has no points and an even plus/minus number.
But the young Slovakian sniper is taking positive steps. He has seen his playing time increase in each contest he has played, logging 15:11 of ice time in the overtime loss to the Rangers.
While it would be easy to knock Tatar for not having any points in almost 49 minutes of ice time this season, Tatar is part of the Red Wings' future and thus, he needs to be treated as such.
His role and ice time on the second line are critical for him to grow as a player. He showed last season in the AHL that he could put up goals in a hurry during the playoffs with 16 in 24 games.
The challenge now is to do it at the NHL level and solidify his role with the Red Wings.
Stephen Weiss Isn't Earning His Contract
This is an obvious point, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have big ramifications on the immediate future of the Detroit organization.
For all intents and purposes, the Stephen Weiss signing is still the bane of the Red Wings offense right now.
If Weiss was able to contribute on a more consistent basis, he would not have spent the past couple games as the third-line center. No third-line center in the NHL should be paid $4.9 million a season, per CapGeek, but that's exactly what the Red Wings are paying Weiss to do.
Weiss was a prominent free-agent signing when the Red Wings let Valtteri Filppula go and signed the former Florida Panther instead.
Filppula has nine points in 10 games with Tampa Bay, while Weiss has two goals in 10 games with Detroit.
This isn't a short-term idea, either, as Weiss is locked in for five years. If he can't get his act together, then Detroit will obviously suffer the consequences of his inabilities over the next five seasons like they have early on in 2013-14.
Bottom-6 Forwards Aren't Scoring Enough with Just 3 Goals in 12 Games
The aforementioned line juggling and constantly substituting people in and out of the lineup has led to a lack of stability in the bottom-six forwards group especially.
This lack of stability and possibly lack of chemistry combined with injuries to Patrick Eaves and Darren Helm have caused the Red Wings to be unable to get enough scoring from their bottom-six forwards.
In a hockey game, a team usually dresses 12 forwards. If only half of them (or in Detroit's case, only their top line) are scoring, it makes it very difficult to win games.
In a combined 72-man games from bottom-six forwards, the Red Wings have gotten just three goals. Mikael Samuelsson, Drew Miller and Dan Cleary each have a goal.
Justin Abdelkader is now playing with the third line, but his goal came while playing in the top-six forwards group.
Bottom line, don't look too far to find out why the Red Wings are putting up just 2.25 goals per contest.
Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith Cannot Play on the Same Line for Obvious Reasons
Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith should not play on the same defense pairing.
It hasn't happened in a while with the Red Wings lineup being shaken up after the Niklas Kronwall injury and then the Jonathan Ericsson injury, but there's no denying that Quincey and Smith are the worst D-men on the Red Wings roster right now.
Each time they play together, they put the Red Wings at risk to get scored on. In fact, Smith is a minus-nine through only eight games played, and Quincey is a minus-eight through 12 games.
I recently wrote an article for Bleacher Report on how Brendan Smith was playing his way out of the starting lineup with bad positioning and awareness. The fact is that both players are subsequently playing themselves out of the Red Wings' future plans with their subpar performances.
While there might be some truth to the reasoning that putting Smith and Quincey together makes two decent pairings in a healthy Red Wings defense corps, they are just too much of a liability independent of each other to put them together for an entire contest.
Both of them have a tendency to push up in the play, and neither Smith nor Quincey have the foot speed to make up for these pinches.
Quincey's Contract Is a Stumbling Block for Red Wings Management
Anyone who was making a big fuss about Dan Cleary re-signing in Detroit—meaning that Gustav Nyquist couldn't join the team—was missing the big picture.
While it is about roster spots, it is also about dollars and cents.
Kyle Quincey's cap hit of $3.775 million, per CapGeek, is the second highest amongst Red Wings defensemen. It also makes him nearly impossible to move, despite his contract not having a no-trade clause.
Who wants to take on an overpaid, average-at-best defenseman who has only seven points over his last 76 games played with Detroit?
No hands? Any volunteers?
Quincey was acquired at the 2012 trade deadline in a three-way trade. Detroit gave up a first-round pick for him.
He hasn't given them much in return for their faith and hope in him. Now Ken Holland likely couldn't even trade him if he wanted to pull the trigger on a deal.
Quincey's eating up a roster spot and cap space that could be used for a more promising player.
The Red Wings Defense Is so Bad That Fans Should Be Missing Jonathan Ericsson
Detroit is 6-3 when Jonathan Ericsson is in the lineup this season, and so far, in his absence, the club 0-1-2 without him.
The Ericsson absence provides not only a large hole physically, but it also exposes a lack of poise on the Red Wings' back end.
This lack of poise has led to a whopping 33 giveaways over the past three games. Giving the opposition essentially 33 chances to make plays will end up hurting a team more often than not. Such has been the case since Ericsson's injury.
Just two years ago, people were likely scratching their collective heads at the contract that Ken Holland gave him. Ericsson was one of the highest-paid third-pairing defensemen in the league with his $3.25 million cap hit, per CapGeek.
Ericsson has been stepping up at both ends of the ice since, lodging three points in nine games so far this season.
The Red Wings, as a Whole, Are Relying Far Too Much on Their Goaltenders to Win
With the Red Wings giving up far too many shots against as well as turning the puck over in extremely dangerous areas this season, Detroit goalies have been busier than usual.
Not by much, but by enough.
It is one thing to rely on a goaltender a lot when a team is scoring a lot of goals, but forcing a goalie to win 1-0 or 2-1 games isn't going to work when Detroit has played as sloppy as it has over the first 12 games.
It doesn't matter who is in goal or how well they're playing. The Red Wings will continue to lose unless they can clean up their act defensively and start scoring more often.
Jimmy Howard is a world-class goaltender. Jonas Gustavsson has been holding down the fort nicely as well.
Something has to give here in the next 10 games.
Jonas Gustavsson's Re-Emergence Is a Good Thing for Jimmy Howard
Jonas Gustavsson has a 3-0-0 record this season, giving up just five goals in those three wins.
"The Monster" gave up three goals in relief of Howard against Ottawa, but he has been good when called upon to start games.
This is extremely important going forward, as the Monster's play was a big question coming into the season.
He played in only seven games last season, recording just two victories in limited action. His continued success is obviously very important for Detroit as Jimmy Howard (3-4-2 record this season) struggles to find his identity and some success this season.
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