5 Keys for Detroit Red Wings to Finish Strong in 2013-14 NHL Regular Season
With the win, the Red Wings shrunk their "number" of points needed to clinch a playoff berth to one. The Wings had already seen their number shrink to three on Sunday night when the New Jersey Devils lost 1-0 to the Calgary Flames.
But with three games left and a possible six points still up for grabs, the Red Wings can ill afford to limp into the playoffs.
Here are five keys for a strong regular-season finish from the Detroit Red Wings.
Give Jimmy Howard a Chance to Keep Detroit in the Game
The Red Wings need to give Jimmy Howard a chance to win some games.
Howard, who did not find his game until mid-March, has been on a roll since March 14. Since that day, "Howie" has an 8-3-1 record, allowing two goals or fewer in seven of the 12 games over that span while winning his last four consecutive starts.
His GAA over that time is a bit bloated due to a handful of games where he gave up four or five goals, but he has been steady when the Red Wings have needed him this season.
It is important for the Wings to continue to give him a chance to make saves, not leave rebounds near the crease and, most importantly, get the puck out of the zone on the first try.
Red Wings' beat writer Bill Roose asked coach Mike Babcock about Howard's injury back in November, and Babcock said, "Let’s be clear about this, we’re going as far as Howie takes us."
Howard will continue to be the guy for Detroit until Pavel Datsyuk can find his stride on a regular basis and Henrik Zetterberg returns from injury.
Continue to Limit Giveaways
The Detroit Red Wings are averaging 7.4 giveaways per game this season but have been better over the last 10 games, with just 5.2 giveaways per contest.
This is important because Detroit has not had the luxury of being able to depend on players on the ice recently. Injuries to Datsyuk and Zetterberg have sidelined the two best offensive players.
Limiting giveaways means that the Red Wings have been able to hang around in games longer than most hockey pundits would give them credit for, allowing them to stick around and pick up a point or even a win.
The Red Wings have the 12th-fewest giveaways in the NHL, and they will need to keep it like that to finish strong down the stretch.
Find a Way to Get Datsyuk Involved Without Killing Gustav Nyquist's Success
It wasn't a secret to start the year.
Gustav Nyquist was starting the season in Grand Rapids, while Pavel Datsyuk was expected to be among the Red Wings' leaders in points.
The two players—for reasons (injuries) beyond Datsyuk's control—have flipped places, with Datsyuk on injured reserve and Nyquist getting called up and leading the team offensively. But Datsyuk returned from injury on April 4, and Nyquist hasn't found the back of the net since that day.
Three games may not seem like a long time, but Nyquist had 12 goals in his previous 10 games, so this is a long time by his recent standards.
Going forward, it is important to find a way to keep Nyquist involved and make sure that he has ample opportunities to put the puck in the back of the net, as it is clear that Datsyuk is not completely back up to game speed just yet.
While Nyquist might be bumped to the second line, he still needs to be contributing for the Red Wings to remain an offensive threat in the playoffs that extends beyond their first line.
Outshoot Opponents or Keep the Shots Close at a Bare Minimum
The Detroit Red Wings own a 22-13-7 record when outshooting opponents but are only 15-13-7 when getting outshot.
While the Red Wings only need one point to make the playoffs, they need to make sure that they put themselves in a good mental psyche going into the first round, as that can make all the difference.
Detroit cannot afford to get buried in scoring chances or shots against. While the team is playing well of late, a few bad playoff games here and there will suddenly find the team playing golf instead.
The Red Wings need to get shots on goal and find ways to keep themselves playing in the offensive zone instead of their own end.
Live Up to the Potential
They may be going into the playoffs as a wild-card team (or one that wasn't a top-three team in their division this season), but they are getting healthy and finding ways to win games.
Fans saw last season what this team was capable of, as they took a 3-1 series lead on the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks before losing in overtime of Game 7.
With whom the Red Wings returned from that team (almost everyone) and how many players are getting healthy (and will be fully healthy by the middle of the first round of the playoffs), there's no reason why they can't figure out how to duplicate their results from last season and improve on them.
The only thing standing in Detroit's way is itself.
The Wings must live up to their collective potential and not be satisfied with less than what they can accomplish as a team. If they can do that, they will be a dangerous team down the stretch and into the playoffs.