The Detroit Red Wings have enjoyed a few surprises early this season.
In what has been an up and down first quarter of the season, the Detroit Red Wings have been the beneficiary of some surprises.
Going into a new season, clubs always have some questions that need answering. Teams look to establish their style of play while progressively developing their identity. In Detroit’s case, injuries, underachievement and inconsistency have riddled its lineup.
The Red Wings currently hold the fourth spot in the Atlantic Division with a record of 11-7-7. They have struggled throughout November with a mark of 4-3-5, including a stretch of seven consecutive losses—five straight in overtime or a shootout.
On the plus side, some aspects have fallen into place and other strengths have emerged. Because of this, Detroit has enjoyed some welcome unexpected production.
Here are five of the Wings’ most pleasant surprises in 2013-14.
Jonas Gustavsson has been a big part of Detroit's success.
Signed on July 1, 2012, Jonas Gustavsson is in the final season of a two-year deal to back up starter Jimmy Howard. He has dealt with injuries consistently during his stint in Detroit but this season has already received a larger workload.
In October, Howard suffered an injury to his glove hand, which freed up an opportunity for Gustavsson to play a few games. So far this season he has earned a 5-0-1 record in six starts with a 2.35 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. He has been more than reliable between the pipes, and he’ll receive his second straight start Wednesday when Detroit hosts Boston.
Detroit has won just two games in its last 10, both with Gustavsson in net. The five-year veteran won’t supplant Howard as the starter, but no one can fault coach Mike Babcock for riding the hot hand. With his surprising play so far, you can expect him to receive more time to help keep a fresh Howard—assuming “Gus” stays healthy.
Darren Helm has supplied much needed secondary scoring.
It is certainly early in his season, but Darren Helm has provided the secondary scoring Detroit has needed.
Helm has five goals and seven points in 11 games this season, and his play—along with injuries—has resulted in a spot centering Detroit’s second line. He scored in his first game back this season and scored a highlight-reel goal on Buffalo’s Ryan Miller on Sunday.
His speed is a great threat to opponents, and with Stephen Weiss in Mike Babcock’s doghouse, it’s possible he’ll be centering the second line for the foreseeable future.
Helm has tallied a point in three straight games and has registered a point in five of his last six. He is on an unrealistic pace for 30 goals on the year, but it’s likely he’ll surpass his career-high of 12 set back in 2010-11.
Fans knew that Helm would be an impact player but mostly on the penalty kill and as a third-line energy guy. If he can produce at even half his current rate, it’ll be a big boost for the whole team moving forward.
Detroit's penalty kill is much improved from previous seasons.
Detroit’s penalty kill has slowly improved over the last few seasons, finishing 18th in 2011-12 and 12th last season.
Even with injuries to Brendan Smith, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Dan DeKeyser this season, Detroit’s penalty kill is tied for fourth in the NHL at 85.9 percent. Detroit's ability to maintain a consistent and aggressive penalty kill has certainly kept it afloat over the past month.
The return of Darren Helm has been paramount, while others like Joakim Andersson and Drew Miller have chipped when at the disadvantage. Detroit is the second-most penalized team in the NHL with 99 times shorthanded but has surrendered just 14 goals (12th best).
They say practice makes perfect, but being shorthanded isn’t something of which to make a habit. If the Red Wings can stay out of the penalty box, they are sure to put a few more in the win column.
Detroit's power play ranks sixth in the NHL.
Along with the penalty kill, Detroit’s power play has improved from previous years. In 2011-12, the Wings were just 22nd with the man-advantage and 15th last season.
This year the power play is sixth in the NHL with a notable 22 percent efficiency, a lot of which has to do with the addition of a right-handed shot in Daniel Alfredsson. Six of Alfredsson’s 16 points have come with the man-advantage and his imposing shot will keep it rolling.
Detroit comes in at 19th in the league with 82 power-play opportunities, and their 18 goals are tied for seventh. Detroit will continue to draw penalties with world class players like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg tying up opponents like rodeo cattle.
The Red Wings clearly have the talent and the formula for success on the power play, but it’s certainly a surprise how one right-handed shot can provide such a dramatic improvement.
Moving to the Eastern Conference has contributed to Detroit's success on the road.
Detroit is known as Hockeytown and always presents a daunting atmosphere for visiting opponents; however, Detroit has experienced most of their success on the road.
With a record of 7-3-1 away from Joe Louis Arena, Detroit sports the second-most road wins behind the New York Rangers (8) in the Eastern Conference. Although their home record is an abysmal 4-4-6, their .636 win percentage on the road is second only to Boston (.666) in the East.
Detroit is sure to improve upon its home record, and if the team can maintain its success on the road, it's sure to make noise in the East.