Detroit Red Wings' 5 Keys to a Fast Start After Olympic Break
The Red Wings need to hit the ground running, as they are holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by a single point in the standings.
While no Wings players won gold at Sochi, Mike Babcock and Ken Holland won gold on the coaching and management side of things while all of Detroit's Swedes took home silver medals.
In order to avoid a post-Olympics hangover, here are five keys to a fast start for the Detroit Red Wings.
Salary information courtesy of CapGeek.com.
1. Roll 4 Lines and 3 Defensive Pairings
The Red Wings have some great players in their lineup that are capable of putting up scoring chances and goals when given the puck often enough.
Having said that, some of these players—namely Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Daniel Alfredsson—are aging quickly. With Henrik Zetterberg out until the start of the playoffs—assuming the Red Wings qualify, which is still a big if—Detroit will need to keep its big guns firing on all cylinders.
That can only happen on a consistent basis if Datsyuk, Franzen and Alfredsson are getting appropriate amounts of ice time in each game and not being overtaxed in any given game.
Same goes for Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson.
Although both are younger than the aforementioned forwards, both of them are coming off a taxing Olympic hockey tournament and could likely do with some reduced ice time going down the stretch.
Then there is the fact that the bulk of the lineup has not played NHL-level hockey in over two weeks. While some Red Wings went to the Olympics, the players who didn't should be well-rested for the stretch run.
Babcock must get all of his players in on the action and preserve his top players for situations when he really needs them.
2. Keep Pavel Datsyuk Healthy
Pavel Datsyuk dominated the 2014 Olympics for Russia, brushing off a sluggish start to finish with two goals and four assists in five games played.
However, Datsyuk's sluggish start wasn't due to failure to click offensively so much as the fact that he was still trying to get over his lower-body injury that has sidelined him for all but three NHL games in 2014.
As he is one of the best—if not the best—two-way forward in the game when healthy, the temptation will be to allow Datsyuk to play his normal two-way game.
This simply cannot happen.
The Red Wings are already without top-line forward Henrik Zetterberg, as he recovers from back surgery. Losing both Datsyuk and Zetterberg would be disastrous as far as making the playoffs this season is concerned.
Datsyuk must be limited in the situations that he plays in down the stretch so that he does not re-aggravate that injury and miss another six weeks.
3. Find a Way to Get Stephen Weiss Involved Offensively
This season was supposed to be a bounce-back year for Stephen Weiss. After undergoing season-ending wrist surgery last season, Weiss has missed 22 games of this campaign with a sports hernia.
In the 26 games that he has played in this season, he has just four points.
This needs to change going forward, as Weiss was supposed to be able to contribute at a second-line level for Detroit.
Mike Babcock needs to figure out a way to involve Weiss in the game plan so he can start pulling his weight.
Nothing against Weiss—who has played injured for a few of the games that he has actually started this season—but if he is going to be paid $4.9 million a year for another four years after this, he needs to generate some points and help Detroit win some games.
4. Feed the Mule
Johan Franzen has been an impact player for Detroit when he has played in 2013-14.
But that's where the problem starts for "The Mule." He has played in just 31 of Detroit's 58 games this season, missing 22 of the past 23 games with a concussion.
The second problem for Franzen is that he has scored his 23 points in just 15 games this season, going scoreless in the other 16 contests.
While consistency is an issue with Franzen, if he can come back with no concussion problems, Detroit needs to include him in the game plan on a nightly basis. He is just too good to vanish for five games at a time, especially since Detroit is vying for a playoff spot.
Feed The Mule and good things will happen.
5. Jimmy Howard Needs to Start Back-to-Back Games to Shake off Rust
It is difficult for a goalie to shake off the rust when they don't get enough starts.
Jimmy Howard was selected for Team USA as the third goalie, but didn't end up seeing any action at the 2014 Olympics. Sure, he likely got in some practices, but practices are far different than in-game action.
Howard has struggled this season. However, according to Red Wings beat writer Bill Roose, the Red Wings' No. 1 goalie has the faith of Mike Babcock, who believes that the Red Wings are only going as far as Howard takes them.
Saying something like that and actually starting Howard to carry them down the stretch are two entirely different things, though. Howard needs some starts, as he has proven in the past that he is capable of winning some games by himself.
All Howard needs is Detroit to limit the defensive breakdowns and find a way to score some goals in front of him.