Detroit Red Wings End Year on High Note, Face Uphill Battle in 2010

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IJanuary 1, 2010

CALGARY, CANADA - OCTOBER 31: Pavel Datsyuk #13 and Todd Bertuzzi #44 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrate with their teammates during a break in game action against the Calgary Flames on October 31, 2009 at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The Red Wings defeated the Flames 3-1. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
Dale MacMillan/Getty Images

On December 31, 2009 a couple of things happened that haven't in quite a while.

The Detroit Red Wings beat the Colorado Avalanche and Ville Leino scored a goal.

In fact, Leino's goal turned out to be the game winner.

After being benched for the third time this season on Monday against the Blue Jackets, Leino returned to the lineup solely due to forward Patrick Eaves being out with the flu.

Leino made the most of his opportunity, playing a more desperate, determined game, going to the tough areas and battling for the puck.

When Leino scored the game's third goal (a deflection from the bottom of the right circle), and his first in 21 games, he was helmet-less, having lost his cap while battling for the puck.

What a perfect example of what head coach Mike Babcock has been trying to hammer home to the young Finn—work hard, get your nose dirty, and you'll get rewarded.

The Wings' 4-2 win against the Avalanche brought their record for December to 7-5-2.

While the totals aren't bad, when you consider four of those seven losses came by way of shutout, and all against divisional foes, it isn't hard to see that, if the Red Wings' are making any resolutions for 2010, getting more offense is No. 1 on the list.

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The impending returns of Dan Cleary, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Kronwall, and, eventually, Johan Franzen will certainly help put pucks in the net, but the secondary scoring Detroit got on Thursday night from Ville Leino and Darren Helm will need to become habitual for the rest of the season.

While the Wings were winners on New Year's Eve, the gains they made in the division were largely nil as the two teams ahead of them in the Central Division, Nashville and Chicago, also added two points to their season totals.

At this point, Detroit's highest possible hope would be to finish second in the division.

They currently sit five points behind the head-scratchingly-good Nashville Predators with one game in hand. 

It isn't totally crazy to assume Detroit will start to get better and Nashville will start to slide sometime in early 2010, thus, providing an opportunity for the teams to switch places with each other in the division.

However, no matter how good Detroit gets, earning the top spot in the division would require a monumental collapse on the part of the division-leading Blackhawks, who are even with Detroit in games played, but have 11 more points.

Regardless, Detroit has no illusions.

It knows getting into the playoffs, be it as first-place world beaters or eighth-place finishers that squeak in by one point, would be an accomplishment in itself considering the season the team has had so far.

So, while the Wings are almost certain to improve to the point at which wins of the type they had against the Avalanche on Thursday night come with greater frequency, the teams above them in the division aren't likely to make climbing above third place any easier.

Improved play from second-tier players and the return of injured stars not withstanding, the rest of the 2009-10 season is going to be a hell of a battle for the boys in the winged wheel.