5 Detroit Red Wings Who Must Improve in 2014
Part of that can be attributed to Detroit's injury parade, which has been a theme this season, but sloppy play by various individuals on the team can also be blamed.
While Detroit's play is enough to keep it in a playoff position for the moment, other teams have nearly caught the Red Wings for the wild-card position. If this season ends up shaking out like the lockout-shortened one, the Red Wings will need to win the vast majority of their games to make the playoffs.
Here are five players who must improve in 2014 for Detroit to make the playoffs.
The player who gets the most blame when things don't go well with the Detroit Red Wings is the starting goaltender. Jimmy Howard has had a rough stretch of games so far this season, but his 8-10-8 record speaks for itself.
Plainly speaking, he could be better.
He sparkled on the Red Wings' 2013 playoff run, where they almost upset the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the Chicago Blackhawks. So why the statistical drop-off in the first half of the 2013-14 season?
Howard has moved on with the turn of the calendar, but he will need to continue his fantastic effort of late. Including the Winter Classic on January 1, he is now 2-1-1 with a 94.2 save percentage.
His GAA in 2014 is a little overinflated from giving up four goals in two periods at San Jose, but in his other three games in 2014, he has allowed a combined four goals.
Howard will need to continue to elevate his play for the Red Wings to secure a playoff berth for the 23rd straight time.
Johan Franzen has been sidelined for almost a month with concussion-like symptoms, but he still ranks fifth in team scoring with 22 points despite only playing 30 games.
Although he is among the team best in points, his consistency is still not there on a game-to-game basis. His 22 points have come in 14 games, while he put up no points and a combined minus-five rating in the other 16 contests.
"The Mule" will have to see his offensive consistency change for the better for the Red Wings to make any noise down the stretch and into the playoffs.
From 2008-2010, he had 59 points in 51 playoff games. Since then, he has just 10 points in 27 playoff games. The Red Wings desperately need a healthy Franzen to be close to a point-per-game player as possible. He can do that by contributing as evenly as possible.
If this can happen, Detroit will gain a valuable piece of offense back when he returns from injury.
One might expect that a more recent picture of Dan Cleary than the one above (from April 2013) would be available.
Indeed, only one picture of Cleary has been taken so far this season, and that is one of the big reasons why he is on this list.
He has been invisible this season for the most part.
Without recapping the entire offseason—and excuse the pun because it was indeed an "off" season for Cleary last year with just 15 points in 48 games—it didn't look like it could get any worse for him as far as scoring went.
But the Newfoundland native has put up just over half the points in three fewer games than he played last season. Many Red Wings fans would question his place on the roster even right now with the bundle of forwards who are injured.
Simply put, Cleary needs to start coming through offensively for the Red Wings.
While he is averaging just 13 minutes and 45 seconds of ice time per contest this season, he needs to find his way to the net more often. He is not going to get the job done with 56 shots in 45 games.
Kyle Quincey is a victim of his own production in past contract years.
Now in the last year of a contract that pays him $3.775 million a year, according to CapGeek, he will likely have to take a big pay cut to remain with the Red Wings next season.
Quincey does have eight points this season, but five of them points came in a recent 12-game span. In the other 34 games, he has just three points.
When talking about the 28-year-old defenseman, it is necessary to remind readers that he did have 38, 29 and 23 points in different seasons while playing with different teams. In 100 games with Detroit since he was reacquired at the 2012 trade deadline, he has just 14 points.
As he is just mediocre (at best) on defense, Quincey must pick a zone to improve in for the remainder of 2014. Otherwise, he could find himself without any interested teams come the 2014 offseason.
When Detroit drafted Jakub Kindl at 19th overall in the 2005 NHL draft, it passed over players like Tuukka Rask (21st), T.J. Oshie (24th) and James Neal (33rd).
But Kindl showed initial promise offensively in the AHL, posting 33 points in back-to-back seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
As he was never really the best defensive defenseman, the Red Wings' management hoped that his offensive attributes would carry over into his time in Detroit.
He has never put up more than 13 points in a season, and while that will likely change this year as he has 11 points in 44 games, he will need to fill the shoes that have been left by Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall moving up to the No. 1 pairing.
Kindl needs to show that he can play second-pairing minutes—and not just play them but contribute at both ends of the ice when necessary.
All statistics via NHL.com.