Olympic hockey is underway in Sochi and it’s been enjoyable watching rivals skate together and teammates line up on opposing sides.
The Detroit Red Wings enter the break with a record of 26-20-12 and their 64 points are good for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Detroit is slowly getting healthy, as Pavel Datsyuk has returned after missing 14 games with a knee injury. Although he isn’t 100 percent, it is a step in the right direction. Kevin Allen of USA Today reporting that Henrik Zetterberg’s back injury has resurfaced is a major blow to the team, though.
The return of Stephen Weiss when NHL play resumes will be an added boost for a team among the league leaders in man-games lost. According to mangameslost.com, the Wings rank third with 248 man-games lost as of February 8.
Over its last 10 games heading into the break, Detroit is 5-3-2, but has been outscored 31-28 during that stretch. A lot of its offense has come from upstart youngsters Tomas Tatar and the red-hot Gustav Nyquist.
The Olympic break could be the rest some players need. For those participating in Sochi, an unsuccessful trip could refuel the tanks for the NHL home stretch.
Looking ahead, Detroit will need to get its stars back and improve its play at home if it wants to maintain its playoff position. With six teams separated by three points for the final spot in the East, Detroit has a target on its back.
These are the grades for Detroit Red Wings’ stars at the 2014 Winter Olympic break.
Pavel Datsyuk returned to action for the final two games before the break, recording an assist and a minus-two rating.
Overall, he has been his usual self when healthy. He has played in 37 of the team’s 58 games, but remains sharp with 33 points. He is a minus-four—a career low—and still seems to be feeling the effects of his knee injury that kept him out for nearly all of January.
Even at less than 100 percent, Datsyuk ranks among the best in the NHL. He is fourth on the team in points and remains second behind Henrik Zetterberg in goals with 15.
Datsyuk averaged just over 14 minutes of ice time in his two games before the break and played 15:09 in Russia’s 5-2 win over Slovenia.
Suffice to say that, regardless of the shape he’s in, if he’s on the ice he must be accounted for. However, he admitted to reporters that the lingering injury has been frustrating.
He’s just as big an influence in the locker room as he is on the ice, but if he is forced back on the trainer's table, Detroit is in a heap of trouble.
The Wings will need him in the lineup if they want to make it a 23rd consecutive playoff appearance.
According to NHL.com, Henrik Zetterberg’s herniated disc that caused him to miss most of December has reared its ugly head.
Zetterberg missed Thursday’s practice with Team Sweden as well as the team picture before deciding with team doctors to step away. He scored the game-winning goal in Sweden’s 4-2 win over the Czech Republic on Wednesday.
Detroit’s captain has been sensational all season. Whether or not he’s appeared healthy, Zetterberg has carried the play and gelled nicely with linemates Gustav Nyquist and Justin Abdelkader.
His 16 goals lead the team and he is averaging more than a point per game. Game in and game out, he is the best player on the ice and a big reason why Detroit remains in playoff contention.
Should he be forced to miss an extended period of time, Detroit will be in a world of hurt. The team is just 3-7-3 with “Z” out of the lineup. If the injury requires surgery, he would miss the rest of the season.
If he can heal by the time the Red Wings resume play on Feb. 26, then Hockeytown will breathe a collective sigh of relief.
There were a lot of expectations following Howard after signing a big contract and his playoff performance last season.
If a “C” is average, then it is clear that Howard has played below that mark. He has already surpassed last year’s total losses and is on pace for one of the worst statistical seasons in his career.
So far, he has not played up to par and his lingering injuries have only made matters tougher on the 29-year-old. In 34 games, he is just 12-13-9 with a mediocre 2.65 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.
Even though he was selected to Team USA for the first time in his career, Howard is the third-string netminder behind Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller. Perhaps the Olympic break and sharing a locker room with two elite goaltenders will help him straighten things out.
Jonas Gustavsson has performed well in support of Howard and helped keep Detroit in the playoff race. Should Howard continue to stumble, Gustavsson will be ready to shoulder the load.
Detroit is going to need Howard to return to form if it wants to secure a spot for the postseason. He’s an integral piece of the puzzle and will be key to the club's success down the stretch.
Daniel Alfredsson has been everything Detroit hoped for when it signed him on July 5.
Even at 41 years old, “Alfie” is contributing in every way, totaling 35 points in 46 games. He went into the Olympic break with points in three of the final four games, including goals in each of the last two.
He has already surpassed his total from last season by nine points in one less game played. Now that he appears to be healthy, he’ll provide good scoring depth for a team that needs it desperately.
Having him at the point on the team’s No. 1 power-play unit has been invaluable. After lacking a quality right-handed shot since Brian Rafalski retired, the team has found a key contributor in Alfredsson, who's produced 12 points with the man advantage.
Although he has dealt with small ailments that have cost him 12 games, he has been able to avoid a long-term injury. At his age, his health is a concern, but as long as he can skate, he’ll be another large part of the offensive scheme.
He fits into coach Mike Babcock’s two-way structure and comes ready to compete every game. There isn’t much else to ask for from a veteran in his 18th season.
Niklas Kronwall has certainly come into his own after the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, but there is still room for him to improve.
He leads the team with 18 power-play points and is second with 30 assists, but there is an expectation for him to be the bona fide No. 1 defenseman on the team. Statistically he has been that, but it’s also been on par with what he’s already shown in his career.
With Detroit’s defense struggling for the majority of the season, Kronwall has done his best to shoulder the responsibility. As an established leader for a young corps, it’s possible his best has yet to come.
He has grown steadily as a defenseman, but is still more consistent in the offensive zone than his own. He’s tallied a minus-five rating over the course of his last seven games.
He is second on the team with 36 points in 56 games, but half of those have come on the power play and he’s only a plus-three. His pairmate, Jonathan Ericsson, is a plus-nine.
Given that there is an immense amount of pressure to live up to Lidstrom’s example, Kronwall has performed splendidly. This grade doesn’t reflect on his performance so much as it is compared to what it’s believed he can do.
If he can straighten out the play in his own end, he could take that next step and give the team a necessary boost.