Mike Modano and Red Wings' Third Line Not Much of a Factor...Yet

Matt HutterAnalyst IOctober 25, 2010

DALLAS - OCTOBER 14:  Center Mike Modano #90 of the Detroit Red Wings at American Airlines Center on October 14, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

We all wondered how long it would take, and thankfully, we didn't have to wait long.

After all the hoopla surrounding Mike Modano's "homecoming" to Detroit, quite possibly to end his career, everyone wanted to know how long it would take the Michigan native to score his first goal as a Red Wing.

At one point, Modano was one of the best offensive players in the game and used his goal-scoring talents to become the highest-scoring American player in NHL history. When he signed with Detroit over the summer, many wondered if the heretofore lifelong (Minnesota) Dallas (North) Star would fit in with the Wings at all.

However, at 40 years old, Modano isn't the game-changer he once was.

Would he adjust? Would he contribute? Would he score?

Well, it took only half of his first period in red and white to answer that last question. After that first goal, it looked like Modano was off to the races. He certainly wouldn't lead the team in scoring, but a 20-goal year seemed a reasonable enough hope for No. 90.

Six games later, we're left wondering if Modano will ever score again.

That single goal remains Modano's only point this season and his minus-six rating is a team worst.

So, what has—or hasn't—happened since that first game to make Modano a non-factor so far this season?

To put it simply, Modano is still figuring out how to be a Red Wing.

Despite the promise that first goal suggested, it may have been nothing more than a fluke; akin to an AHL call-up scoring in his first shift with the big club. 

Such events often create unrealistic hopes. You may believe that kid is on his way towards NHL stardom, but give him a few more games and you'll see why they say that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Clearly, Modano is no one-trick, AHL call-up, but his play suggests that he's still trying to get his mind around what is so frequently referred to as "Red Wings hockey."

Then there's Jiri Hudler.

The prodigal son, who returned to Detroit after a one-year defection to the KHL, has just two assists on the season and, like his linemate Modano, sports a minus-six rating.

Hudler's uninspired start is a bit tougher to understand than Modano's.

Unlike Mike, he's young (26), familiar with life as a Red Wing, and still has several good years to look forward to in the NHL.

Despite all that, Hudler has looked timid and out of sync with Modano and fellow winger Dan Cleary, creating few scoring chances for the home team and too many for the visitors.

Cleary has looked the best of the three. He plays a much more physical game than either Hudler or Modano and thus provides value beyond his scoring ability.

Still, he too has had a less-than-promising start to the season. Because he is now free of the knee pain that dogged him the past two seasons and hampered his play, many hoped he would jump out to a quicker start.

So what's to make of this trio that was billed as perhaps the best third line in the NHL this season?

The simple, yet unsatisfying, answer is: be patient.

We have to understand that playing on a third-line unit that was assembled to create secondary scoring is, at times, a lonely and tedious job.

Unlike the top two lines, which may be juggled to create the energy and oft-elusive chemistry required to become a consistent scoring threat, the third line is often put together and left to figure each other out on their own.

As long as the top six forwards are helping the team win hockey games, there's no need to fret over a lackluster third-line unit.

Consider that before you start wringing your hands over Modano's lack of scoring.

Detroit has had the rare fortune of starting the season with all of its top players living up to their billing.

The second line of Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, and Todd Bertuzzi has been the most consistent through seven games, combining for 21 points and a plus-13 rating to start the season.

Now, with the first line of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Tomas Holmstrom heating up—the trio has combined for 12 points over the past two games—all the primary offensive cylinders in Detroit's Big Red Machine are firing.

So what of the backups, the guys who don't have to show up on the score sheet each game for the team to win? Again, those guys are largely going to have to figure things out on their own; and that's fine, because the top guys aren't going anywhere.

Johan Franzen isn't going to swap spots with Dan Cleary to help get Mike Modano going, and Pavel Datsyuk won't be taking over the center position to help set up Jiri Hudler for his first goal of the year.

Some fans may lament that Detroit's third line hasn't been a factor, but given their collective talent and experience, Modano and Co. will become one this season. Just be thankful that, so far, they haven't had to.


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