Detroit Red Wings: 10 Reasons They're the Team to Beat in the West
The Detroit Red Wings have a recent tradition of excellence that can only really be described by one word—consistency.
That consistency has given them a place as the NHL's most successful franchise over the past 20 years.
There are a few reasons for this success, but each year, critics always seem to write off Detroit from postseason success.
This usually ends up with Detroit proving people wrong, making it further than they were projected.
Detroit's nucleus is an older one, but they shed a lot of veterans last season in free agency and have gotten younger with new faces from a variety of places.
They remain a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference and the league as a whole.
However, this slideshow will not only promote Detroit as a great team in the Western Conference, but as the best team in the Western Conference.
Here are 10 reasons to believe this Detroit team is best in the West this season.
1. San Jose Sharks Aren't the Team People Thought They Would Be
Making a bold claim such as "The Detroit Red Wings are the best team in the Western Conference" requires some evidence of why other teams do not deserve that same title.
I will start with San Jose, who sits at 13th overall in the Western Conference.
Not where most people thought they would be at this point.
San Jose traded away Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley to the Wild and brought Martin Havlat and defenseman Brent Burns back in exchange.
The Sharks started the season 1-3 and have won their last two games, but they have really not looked dominant to start the season.
The Sharks have given up 16 goals, scoring only 18 in the process, and have given up three or more goals in four of their six games played so far.
Burns was supposed to provide an anchor for the defense to go along with an already-formidable Doug Murray, but this shutdown pair has yet to start paying dividends for the .500 Sharks.
2. Vancouver Canucks Can't Keep the Puck out of Their Net
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The Vancouver Canucks currently sit at sixth overall in the Western Conference.
A 4-3-1 record isn't bad for the Canucks, but the minus-one goal differential should bother their fans, as they've allowed 23 goals through seven games.
That's more than three goals a game against. Almost a full goal against above what they allowed last season.
Everybody knows that defense wins championships, and what separated the Canucks from the Bruins last season was the ability to defend in their own zone.
Vancouver has yet to prove that they can overcome the loss of Christian Ehrhoff back on the blue line.
Vancouver is also on a two-game win streak, but their winning ways are contingent on Kesler, Burrows and the Sedin twins staying healthy.
Take out any of those pieces of the puzzle, and Vancouver doesn't make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
3. Los Angeles Will Live and Die on Their Goaltender: Jonathan Quick
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Jonathan Quick has three straight shutouts.
He's a stellar goaltender who is quickly (no pun intended) emerging as one of the top goalies in the NHL.
But his success determines how much his team wins.
Richards only has one goal and five assists through seven games.
While the five assists stand out, Richards was brought in to score goals, and he has not really lived up to the "sniper" title that preceded him.
Superstar Anze Kopitar, on the other hand, has six goals and 10 points in seven games and looks to factor into the scoring races this season.
The Kings are only worse in my opinion than Detroit at this point because they have some question marks on defense.
Jack Johnson anchors a defense while Drew Doughty remains out with an upper-body injury.
Doughty signed that mammoth contract extension in the offseason, but he has not really had a chance to play significantly yet this season.
Quick does not seem to care that Doughty is out of the lineup. But if he starts getting second thoughts, he could get run over like last year in the playoffs against the San Jose Sharks.
4. The Chicago Blackhawks Can't Pull out Wins in Close Games
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The Chicago Blackhawks' roster is filled with big-time forwards who make fantastic plays.
Unfortunately, they are only 1-1-2 in one-goal games.
Chicago has a 4-1-2 record overall, good for fifth overall in the Western Conference.
But their inability to convert in one-goal games raises questions about the ability of this team to move back to their 2010 Stanley Cup form.
Their defense also raises some eyebrows, as the Blackhawks don't really have any decent defenders after Keith, Seabrook and Hjalmarsson.
This leaves goaltender Corey Crawford in danger of losing his current 2.13 GAA and his 92.0 save percentage.
Crawford needs to be bigger for the Blackhawks in close games, or else they have no shot of returning to their Cup form of 2010.
5. Colorado Can't Win at Home, They Also Rely on the Shootout Too Much
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This young Colorado squad is a scrappy bunch.
In fact, they lead the Western Conference in goals at this point in the season.
Anybody predict that to start the season?
Heck, anybody predict them to be first in the Northwest division right now at 6-2?
I sure didn't.
But Colorado relies too much on shootout wins to compile their record.
They are also 6-0 on the road, but winless at home, including a loss in their home opener against the Red Wings.
Colorado might find itself playing on home ice if they continue their current play, but they must learn to win on home ice, as well as in regulation or overtime.
They cannot continue to leave the game to chance in the shootout and hope to lead their division in two months time, let alone at the end of the season.
6. Nick Lidstrom
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Nicklas Lidstrom said this past offseason that he would come back if Detroit was going to be contending for a Stanley Cup.
Well, in all due fairness, his return makes Detroit a Cup contender.
The 41-year-old, seven-time Norris Trophy winner came back for another year, and so far, he has four points in six games played, going plus-two over that stretch.
Many people may (once again) write off Lidstrom as too old, but Lidstrom will likely (once again) prove his critics wrong and defy Father Time.
Lidstrom is not ageless, however, and he is definitely not as quick as he used to be back in his prime.
But he still has the ability and the desire to take the puck to the net if need be and score from anywhere on the ice.
Lidstrom could definitely see another 50-60 point season, and he is a substantial reason that Detroit is even in the conversation for another Stanley Cup.
7. Jimmy Howard
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Jimmy Howard is a new father, and for this reason he will not be in the lineup when Detroit faces Columbus tonight.
But Howard has some sparkling numbers through the four games that he has played.
Howard has won every game he has played in this season, amassing a 4-0-0 record with a 1.72 GAA and a 93.3 save percentage.
Those are Vezina-type numbers, but seeing as the season is barely underway, I will withhold my biases and simply say that he has the Red Wings going in the right direction.
Howard's absence on the ice Saturday night in Washington was obvious, as backup goaltender Ty Conklin gave up seven goals on 25 shots.
Howard has looked far more confident than last season, and his numbers are reflecting that as well.
He has been helped out by a seemingly "defense-first" approach.
Before the eye-sore game against Washington, Detroit had only allowed seven goals against in five games played.
This is a far-cry from their goals against last year, in which Detroit gave up 2.89 goals against per game.
8. Team Defense
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Aside from getting dominated in their game Saturday against the Capitals, the Red Wings have played very good team defense.
They had allowed only seven goals in five games, and three of those came in a meaningless third period against the Senators.
Detroit's team defense would likely be vouched for by the previously-mentioned Jimmy Howard, as this team defense is a significant part of Howard's phenomenal numbers.
Detroit has done a good job keeping the opposition to the outside of the zone and not allowing penetration into the slot, but Detroit must find a way to move the traffic from in front of the net.
This is an even bigger issue after watching the game against the Capitals and how many goals went in, because Conklin had absolutely no idea where the puck was due to the screening that was ongoing in front of the net.
Howard has had his share of problems battling through traffic as well, and it is up to Detroit's defense to man up and take control of the front of the net.
9. Filppula and Franzen Lead the Team in Scoring
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Franzen and Filppula lead the Red Wings in scoring with seven points apiece.
Franzen has four goals, while Filppula has five assists.
Both seem to be enjoying the switching of Franzen to center and Filppula to the wing.
It is truly a sight for sore eyes after watching Filppula and Franzen struggle in years past at some points.
Franzen had the dynamite scoring ability, but he has never in my mind really been a consistent threat over a long period of time.
It is nice to see a new one-two punch that Detroit can throw at the other team instead of it just being Datsyuk and Zetterberg.
Datsyuk has five points while Zetterberg only has two, but give Zetterberg long enough and he will catch up to the team leaders in points.
If Detroit can keep these four players going, plus Jiri Hudler—who is off to a good start as well with four points—Detroit could be very difficult to contain offensively.
10. It All Starts Behind the Bench with Babcock
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Mike Babcock is the best coach in today's NHL game.
Yeah, my "homer" goggles are off, and I'm speaking the truth.
Babcock is 63-39 in the playoffs in the NHL, he also has almost double the amount of wins as regulation losses in his NHL coaching career.
Babcock is simply a mastermind who knows how to get what he wants out of his players.
He is one of the "x-factors" going into this season once again.
Babcock knows how to get to the top because he's been there before.
He has taken seemingly-underdog teams like his Anaheim Mighty Ducks back in 2002-03 and knocked off big teams like Detroit.
There doesn't seem to be any challenge that Babcock is not willing to take on wholeheartedly and that is why he is so valuable to the Red Wings.
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The Detroit Red Wings have had a large number of successes in this young season, with the only setback on Saturday against Washington.
Putting that first loss in the rear-view mirror will be important for Detroit to move on and continue to lead their division.
Chicago is right on their tails and will not hesitate to jump Detroit in the standings should the Red Wings falter.
I do, however, believe that Detroit is off in the right direction.
Look for them to become the desperate team against Columbus tonight, and look to pick up two points to keep their lead in the Central division.
Keep in mind as well that although Detroit is the best team in the Western Conference right now, should the teams mentioned previously be able to rectify the obvious respective flaws and deficiencies, Detroit will once again be on a level playing field with the Western Conference.
It is never a cake-walk to make it to the playoffs in the Western Conference, but Detroit has done it 20 straight times and is looking to get back to that division-clinching spot again.
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