I’ve thought about writing this post every couple weeks since the start of the season, and every couple weeks my answer has changed so I’ve held off. We’re far enough in now, past American Thanksgiving with over a quarter of the games played, that we should have an answer.
What have we learned about this Red Wings team?
Two weeks into the season, the Red Wings were looking very good. They were 5-1 on October 23 and riding an unsustainable power play rate. It seemed like it made sense to wait to see if the expected crash happened.
Then they dropped three consecutive games and four of six. Regression to the mean is brutal. They did not look good.
A win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 11 made things look good heading into the Global Series games in Stockholm, but then the Red Wings dropped both of those, including giving up a two-goal lead in the third period against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It seemed like it might just be that, despite their hot start, the Wings were just not a very good team.
But since returning to North America, the Red Wings have wins in six of seven games, outscoring their opponents 30-15. They suddenly look good again and are back in a playoff spot, sitting in second place in the Atlantic Division and third place in the Eastern Conference.
While those swings have been happening, the lineup has had some weirdness going on, too.
The defense has been inconsistent, with costly gaffes on display with an unfortunate frequency. This has led to players rotated in and out of the lineup and shuffling of the pairings, aside from the relatively-consistent top pair of Moritz Seider and Jake Walman.
The forward lines were thrown into a blender after the Europe trip and will be further shaken up once recent free agent addition Patrick Kane gets into the lineup.
Then there’s the situation in goal. Alex Lyon was the odd-man-out to start the season, with Ville Husso the starter and James Reimer as the backup. Lyon couldn’t even get into a game until that Europe trip, with Husso returning home as his wife gave birth to their child. Since then, Lyon has started five games, won four of them, and is holding down a 1.61 GAA and .947 save percentage.
Through it all, their scoring rate is better than last season and it’s been a team effort. Their top scorers are Dylan Larkin and Alex DeBrincat, who are only tied for 29th overall in the league. Eleven Red Wings have scored at least ten points on the season, including Robby Fabbri, who has only played 12 games.
On the negative side, they have a tendency to take late penalties and allow late goals.
So what does all that mean? What have we learned about this Red Wings team?
They’re streaky. Inconsistent. They can play with – and beat – the top teams in the league and also blow leads and lose to teams at the bottom. They can score enough to earn a win in the first 40 minutes of a game and then allow enough to threaten – or outright lose – that lead in the third.
More importantly, they’re better. While it might not always be pretty, they are winning games that they would have lost last year, or lost badly the year before.
We saw that with last night’s win over Buffalo. The Sabres swept their four-game season series last year, albeit with two shootout wins. In the regulation losses, the Red Wings were outscored a combined 14-6. Last night Detroit went in and put up four goals to take the big, early lead. They allowed three to make it close before adding an empty-netter. It wasn’t pretty but it was a win.
I think the question going forward is whether they can keep this up. There were a lot of high hopes for the Red Wings last year in the lead up to the trade deadline before two losses to Ottawa revealed the team’s weaknesses. With Florida and Toronto and even Tampa Bay lurking behind Detroit in the standings, a losing streak in January or February could lead to a drop out of a playoff spot pretty easily.