The 5 Biggest Questions for Detroit Red Wings During the Home Stretch in 2013-14
The Detroit Red Wings are in a playoff spot with seven games remaining in their season. They currently sit in the No. 1 wild-card spot, having either more points or games in hand than the teams below them.
But there are still substantial questions that need to be answered for Detroit as it heads down the stretch run of the regular season.
Here are the five biggest questions for the Red Wings as they march toward a 23rd straight playoff berth.
"Biggest" in this sense refers to questions that directly impact the Red Wings' ability to make the playoffs and be successful in the postseason.
What Should Pavel Datsyuk's Role Be When He Returns?
It will happen eventually.
Pavel Datsyuk will return to the Red Wings lineup once his knee allows him to do so. It won't be tonight against the Boston Bruins, according to Red Wings beat writer Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press.
But when he does return to the ice, how much should he play and what line will he play on?
The temptation is obviously to put him on the first line in between Gustav Nyquist and possibly Johan Franzen, but he would benefit more by playing fewer minutes and making other coaches game-plan around the fact that he isn't on the top line.
Definitely something to keep an eye on when Datsyuk finally returns.
Will Gustav Nyquist Continue to Light It Up?
Gustav Nyquist has been the hottest player in the NHL since January 20 with 22 goals in 27 games.
But the Red Wings, despite their edge in the standings, still have not clinched a playoff spot and might not do so until a few more games have been played. With Datsyuk out a few more games and Henrik Zetterberg not having a return date set, Nyquist will have to continue to do what he's done best of late: score goals.
When Nyquist scored a goal in the month of March, the Red Wings were 6-2-1. When he didn't score, they were just 1-4-1. So needless to say, the Red Wings value his offense greatly.
How many more goals can Nyquist score? Can the November call-up forward help deliver the Red Wings their 23rd consecutive postseason appearance?
Can Jimmy Howard Be Better Moving Forward?
With a 5-5-2 record and an 89.4 save percentage over the month of March, Jimmy Howard still has room to improve.
With the Red Wings looking to clinch a playoff berth and possibly make some noise in the playoffs, Howard needs to be better.
Granted, the Red Wings defense has been porous at times, but Howard needs to find a way to make the saves that he hasn't been able to find a way to make thus far this season.
Will he be able to turn it around in April in time for the playoffs?
The Red Wings sure hope so, as Howard surrendered three or more goals in eight out of his 12 starts in March. Scoring four or more goals in the NHL has never been and will never be easy.
Howard needs to figure it out on the ice if the Red Wings are to make the playoffs.
Will a Blown Lead Cost the Red Wings a Playoff Spot?
In order to win games in regulation (which should be a priority for the Red Wings right now in case of tie-breaking procedures), the Red Wings need to figure out as a team how to play with and maintain a lead.
Statistically speaking, the Red Wings are ranked 25th in the league in winning percentage when leading after one period with a 20-3-7 record, and it doesn't get much better when leading after two periods, as the team's 23-3-7 record is second worst in the entire NHL in terms of winning percentage.
This is something that must be addressed sooner rather than later. Although Detroit has gotten better in the month of March, it still had hiccups against Minnesota, Columbus, New Jersey and Colorado, losing all four of those games in regulation or overtime after leading after one period or scoring the first goal.
Should the Red Wings figure out how to play with a lead and lock it down in the third period, they will be a very dangerous team.
The Wings have allowed 84 of their 213 goals in the third period and have a minus-23 goal differential in the last frame of each contest. That needs to change ASAP.
Can This Patchwork Team Hold onto Its Wild-Card Spot?
A casual Red Wings fan who has not tuned in for many games might not recognize a substantial portion of the roster this season if said fan tuned in to Wednesday night's game against the Boston Bruins.
Names like Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, Tomas Tatar and even, to an extent, Gustav Nyquist were all unknowns at the start of the season.
Sure, each player was "known" by fans and management, but as for what each player could do in the NHL? That was still a question.
Those players have answered the bell down the stretch in this season, and while all four of those players have contributed different amounts on offense, the Red Wings are a better team because they are in the lineup on a more consistent basis.
This team has shown that it is more than capable of challenging for a playoff spot, as the Wings currently sit in the top wild-card spot.
The Red Wings have not backed down from stiff competition this year, and though fans may grow irritated at the length of time it takes some of these players to learn from their mistakes, one must remember that these players are all young and still learning the nuances of the NHL game.
For how this patchwork team has risen to the occasion, the postseason is theirs to lose but also theirs for the taking.
All statistics via NHL.com.