Red Wings’ playoff chances rest on goalie, player health

The Detroit Red Wings started the 2014-2015 season on Thursday, October 9, hosting the Boston Bruins at Joe Louis Arena. While the Wings defeated the Bruins 2-1, they hosted the Anaheim Ducks two days later and their fate was not as positive. The Ducks handed them their first loss of the season on a controversial goal in the final minute of the game, defeating the Wings 2-1. The Wings then hosted the Bruins once more on Wednesday, October 15, taking a hard-fought 3-2 loss that needed a shootout to decide the victor.

Detroit then played back to back games against the Toronto Maple Leafs; one game was played in Toronto, and the Wings hosted the Maple Leafs in Detroit the following night. The Wings made a statement against the Maple Leafs in the first game, winning 4-1. Henrik Zetterberg, the Red Wings’ captain, had an assist on each of the four goals, adding up to four points that night. Zetterberg was once again the hero the following night as the Red Wings defeated the Maple Leafs 1-0 in overtime, when Zetterberg scored the lone goal. Looking to extend their playoff appearance streak to 24 seasons, the first week of the season could be a tell-tale sign of whether the Red Wings are able to make the playoffs or not.

A playoff-caliber team starts with the man between the pipes – the goalie. Jimmy Howard, the Red Wings goalie, had a down season last year and was blamed by many Red Wings fans for them nearly missing the playoffs. His 2.66 GAA (goals against average) was the worst in his career since 2010. Howard only collected only two shutouts as well, a small number compared to previous years. According to espn.com, Howard is number 31 out of 47 goalies on a list that ranks every goalie that qualified for the category of best GAA. He also is four spots behind the Red Wings backup goalie, Jonas Gustavsson. With all of this in mind, Howard has seemed determined to turn it around this season and leave last season in the past.

“I think we’re more apt to see the Howard of two and three years ago, when his GAA was at 2.12, than last year’s inconsistent Howard,” Ansar Khan, a Red Wings beat writer for mlive.com said in an interview with the Pleiad. “He’s in better shape and seems more determined to redeem himself. He was good in the preseason and is off to a good start, but we’ll see.”

Age is one of the biggest factors to success in the NHL. Younger teams seem to have more speed and endurance than teams that are made up of veterans. On the flip side, teams that are composed of veterans have more experience and can be more skilled than younger talent. This year, it seems as though the Red Wings have the best of both worlds. With veteran players like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Niklas Kronwall, they bring the wisdom and intangibles that the younger players lack.

“Sure, they’ve got some older guys like Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, and Pavel Datsyuk. But they also shed some age with the likes of Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson moving on,” Brendan Savage, a Red Wings mlive.com reporter told the Pleiad. “On the flip side, they’ve got young guys like Tomas Jurco (21), Tomas Tatar (23), Danny DeKeyser (24), and Gustav Nyquist (25) on the roster. If anything, I think they’re getting younger. You need some experience to succeed, and they’ve got a nice mix when it comes to the ages of their players.”

Prior to the 2013-2014 season, the NHL realigned the two conferences, which moved both the Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Eastern Conference. The realignment also stipulates that all 30 teams will play at least one game in each arena every season. As far as the Red Wings are concerned, many people were worried about how the realignment would affect the Red Wings’ play. After the 2013-2014 season, it seems that the Red Wings have had no trouble playing more Eastern Conference teams, and that they may even be having an easier time with them.

Ted Kulfan, a reporter for the Detroit News, explained to me how the Red Wings have held up in the East thus far: “Just looking at the schedule, the Red Wings are really going to see the benefit of playing in the Eastern Conference – even more than last season. There aren’t many back-to-back games, and the travel is so light the first couple months of the season.

“From a competitive standpoint, the East isn’t as talented top to bottom as the West is. The best teams in the East are beatable. That helps the Red Wings,” Kulfan said.

The biggest question Red Wings fans have about their team this year is if they will continue their playoff appearance streak to 24 straight seasons. Last season, it seemed as though the Wings’ streak would end at 23 seasons, but they were able to get hot at the right time and made the playoffs by two games. While they did make the playoffs, they were dominated by the Boston Bruins in the first round and lost in five games. The Red Wings playoff streak is still the longest playoff appearance streak by any team in the four major sports (NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB).

“With better health, continued growth from young players and an improved Howard, they should make the playoffs,” Khan said. “I think they’re a middle of the pack team in the Eastern Conference, around 4th through 6th. Once you get in, any team is capable of going on a long run if it (its goalie, in particular) gets hot at the right time.”

A big key for the Red Wings is their health, and also the health of other teams. If they can stay healthy and take advantage of other teams losing players to injuries, they could be contenders in the Eastern Conference.

“If they remain healthy, which obviously wasn’t the case last season, this Red Wings team has enough talent to make the playoffs in the East. I just don’t see eight teams in the East better than they are,” Kulfan said. “As a matter of fact, if things fall right, if they play the right opponent, this could be a dangerous team in the playoffs.”

 

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

About Steven Marowski 77 Articles
Steven Marowski is a senior from Farmington Hills, Michigan, and is a professional writing and philosophy double major. Steve loves to talk sports, preferably baseball and hockey, and owns over 140 different hats. Follow him on Twitter at @Steve_Marowski

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