One Improvement Each Detroit Red Wings Line Must Make
Injuries have continued to pile up for the Detroit Red Wings, and it’s created some unique line combinations.
Taking a look at the four forward lines for the Red Wings, there are glaring holes without Henrik Zetterberg, Darren Helm and Stephen Weiss as options. The defensive lines aside, Mike Babcock has had to get creative with his lineup card.
Pavel Datsyuk’s return on Tuesday night gave Detroit a boost on the top line. He skated alongside Daniel Alfredsson and Justin Abdelkader in Thursday’s bout with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
With 18 points in his last 15 games, Johan Franzen’s scoring surge has him centering the second line with Todd Bertuzzi and Gustav Nyquist.
Tomas Tatar has seven points in his last eight games and skated on Joakim Andersson’s wing with Drew Miller on the third line.
The fourth line consisted of Daniel Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson, centered by Cory Emmerton.
All four of these lines have to play responsible, hard-nosed hockey if Detroit wants to come away with two points during their upcoming schedule. Keeping in mind that these lines are temporary, it’s important for each to impose their will while remaining accountable in their own end.
Looking ahead, here is one improvement that each forward line will need to make.
Line 1: Shoot the Puck
Detroit’s top line consisting of Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Alfredsson and Justin Abdelkader totaled just eight of the team’s 29 shots in Thursday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Tampa Bay.
Alfredsson accounted for six shots, while Abdelkader and Datsyuk each put just one on net through regulation and overtime.
As the top scoring line with all-world talents like Alfredsson and Datsyuk, it’s important that they come out firing and continue to apply pressure in the offensive end. Detroit is already depleted at the forward position, and if their top line can’t produce, then they’re in a world of hurt.
Datsyuk has 25 points in 26 games this season and is a threat to score whenever he touches the puck. Daniel Alfredsson has 433 career goals, and Justin Abdelkader is on pace to reach career highs in goals, assists and points.
The trio combined for a minus-three Thursday night and struggled to get the puck to the net. If they can simplify their game and throw it on net, it won't be long before it starts going in.
Line 2: Maintain Pressure in the Offensive Zone
Detroit’s second line produced their lone goal Thursday night and appears to be their strongest as of late.
The combination of Gustav Nyquist and Johan Franzen has breathed life into Detroit’s second scoring unit, and the addition of big-bodied Todd Bertuzzi brings size and physicality. Although Detroit’s lone goal Thursday was scored by defenseman Kyle Quincey, the chance was generated by a good rush from Nyquist.
The line finished a combined plus-three and generated seven shots of their own while averaging nearly three less minutes than the top line. Franzen and Nyquist each recorded an assist on Quincey’s goal.
As the more potent grouping of late, this line can generate more offense by maintaining puck possession in the offensive end.
Consistent puck movement can effectively sustain pressure on the opponent in their own end while creating opportunities for each member on the line. Operative cycling below the circles and the use of their point men as outlets can help generate scoring chances and improve the quality of those openings.
If the top line continues to sputter, the pressure will fall on their second unit to produce. By increasing the flow in the offensive zone, they can impose their will and wear down the opposition.
Line 3: Control the Neutral Zone
The increasingly effective line of Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson and Drew Miller contains a little bit of everything.
Tatar brings skill and speed to a grinding line, supported well by blue-collar players like Miller and Andersson. As a solid faceoff guy, Andersson’s 53.8 faceoff win percentage is best on the team and provides consistent puck possession.
Tatar adds speed and Miller reliability with the puck, but more importantly, the three remain extremely responsible in their own end. If they can control the neutral zone more efficiently, they can further limit opponents' offensive opportunities and seize control of every aspect of the shift.
Adding the element of complete control from a third line would allow coach Mike Babcock the opportunity to role three lines in nearly any scenario. That sort of dependability adds tremendous depth and takes the pressure off of the two scoring lines.
Their solidarity could allow them to remain together when players like Henrik Zetterberg and Darren Helm return from injury. That kind of unity could deepen Detroit’s lineup even further as the season progresses.
Line 4: Generate a Pulse
It sounds funny, but the fourth line has been generally nonexistent in recent games.
The combination of Dan Cleary, Mikael Samuelsson and Cory Emmerton spent very little time on the ice at even strength Thursday night. Emmerton totaled 5:04 of ice time for the game, while Samuelsson (8:27) and Cleary (10:30) saw nearly half of their time on the power play.
The three players have combined for three goals and seven assists on the season and have been as effective as a stinger without a bee.
Dan Cleary recorded his second goal of the season in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, and Samuelsson hasn’t scored since he recorded the team’s first of the season back in October. Coincidentally, each goal was assisted by Emmerton—his only two points on the season.
Admittedly, it is difficult to remain consistent when they see the ice for less than 10 percent of the game, but they need to at least provide a spark. Their inability to deliver much of anything forces Mike Babcock to shorten his bench in close games and possibly overuse some talents.
A fourth line is underrated in what it offers a club, but as the season progresses, depth only becomes more and more valuable. Without it, the Wings may not fly as high as they’d hoped.