Do Detroit Have One Last Cup Run In Them?
A little under a month in to the new NHL season and Detroit are among the front runners in the Eastern Conference.
The clubs first season in the East wasn’t easy, but the injury hit 2013/14 campaign still resulted in a play-off berth. Now, sporting a largely healthy roster, the Wings look like a force to be reckoned with once again.
Whilst there is no escaping father times shadow creeping across the organisation, does this group have one more shot at glory in them?
Captain Henrik Zetterberg’s return to fitness has gone a long way to restoring the clubs fortunes. The Swede missed 37 games last season as the result of a back injury and corrective surgery; but any doubts over whether the problem would hamper him this season seem to have been brushed aside, as the 34-year old posted 3 goals and 12 points in the clubs first 9 games.
Gustav Nyquist has also picked up where he left off last year, scoring 5 goals, with speedy winger Justin Abdelkader’s 5 goals putting him well on course to beat his previous best of 10 – with Michigan native’s efforts making Daniel Alfredsson’s absence far more palatable to fans.
With Johan Franzen and Pavel Datsyuk also healthy and seemingly at the top of their game, Detroit has some of its swagger back right now – as they showed against Washington on Wednesday.
If Darren Helm, Tomas Tatar and 22-year old Riley Sheahan can find some form, the Red Wings offence could be as effective as its been for several years – particularly if Tomas Jurco can also take a step forward in his second season with the club.
Even some of the teams defensive question marks seem to have been answered early on.
Niklas Kronwall remains one of the NHL’s elite D men, and both Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl seemed to have turned some form of corner.
While the Wings will almost certainly want more offensive production from the likes of Danny DeKeyser, who has no goals so far this season, for the moment the club seems to have got its game together in its own end.
This is thanks in no small part to netminders Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson.
The pair are averaging under 2 goals per game against, with only Florida (who have played a game less than Detroit) surrendering fewer goals in the Eastern Conference.
Whilst it seems unlikely Detroit will continue to be such a juggernaut defensively, and there have been a few bum notes early on (the loss to Philadelphia for example), this is a franchise which seems to have its tail up again.
Can it continue? Health probably remains the biggest factor in determining that. The blue line is thin and the teams stars are also the ones who seem most susceptible to injury.
Stephen Weiss remains absent due to a groin injury, with his conditioning stint in Grand Rapids lasting just two periods, further harming the clubs depth chart – but if the Red Wings can avoid another glut of injuries, the past three weeks have shown this is a team that still has an enormous amount going for it.
With Boston wobbling, the idea of Detroit grabbing one of the top three spots in the Atlantic is becoming a more and more conceivable situation – and if they make it in, with Zetterberg and co leading the charge, they’ll be a tough side to beat come the spring.
And if they can propel themselves on a perhaps improbable play-off run; they are perhaps the one team in the East who really knows what it’s like to skate with Western teams over the long haul.
In a one off clash, Eastern teams can hold their own – in a 7 game series?
The ease with which LA and Chicago have dispensed with New Jersey, Boston and the Rangers over the past three years gives you an idea of how things tend to go…
But the Red Wings didn’t just survive in the West – they thrived.
Pre-season concerns about the injuries and depth remain valid; but right now, the winged wheel of Detroit is flying.