After losing in the Stanley Cup Finals, Detroit’s chances at repeating as Western Conference champions looked pretty slim heading into this season. With forwards Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky and Mikael Samuelsson all leaving via free agency, it looked as if the Red Wings’ run of dominance in the Central Division was at an end. While injuries set them back at the start of the year, the Wings have roared back into the playoff picture with a redhot second half and now pose a serious threat to whichever top seed is unlucky enough to draw them in the first first round.
Offense: B The leaders of the Red Wings for the last few seasons haven’t changed: Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are two of the best two way forwards in the league today, capable of shutting down an opposing team’s top scoring line while providing offense of their own. The Wings also have some of the best veteran power forwards around, with Todd Bertuzzi, Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen. Franzen’s return from injury couldn’t come at a better time, and the big Swede has already scored 10 goals and 19 points in only 25 games.
Defense: B+ A veteran blueline that is one of the deepest, most experienced inthe league will give opposing offenses plenty to worry about. Lidstrom and Rafalski lead the team with +21 and +22 ratings, respectively, and Lidstrom is currently 3rd on the team with 49 points. With a rookie goalie, the Wings’ blueline will have to be at the top of their game in the playoffs, but if the way Detroit’s played in the last few weeks is any indication, they will be.
Goaltending: A Jimmy Howard is one of the leading candidates for rookie of the year, after stealing the starting job in Detroit from Chris Osgood early in the season. In 61 games, Howard has 35 wins, a 2.31 GAA and a .923 save percentage. Without Howard’s play, the Wings would most likely be missing the playoffs for the first time in as long as I can remember. Playoffs, however, are a whole different ballgame. Some rookie goalies thrive under the pressure, others buckle. How Howard does will most likely determine how much success the Wings have this year.
Special Teams: B- A team known best for its systematic style of play, it’s no surprise that the Wings are among the top ten NHL teams in both powerplay and penalty killing. For successful teams like Detroit, the thing that makes their special teams so effective is the fact that they employ the team’s best players. When guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg don’t miss shifts when their team takes a penalty, it makes it that much easier for them to be productive and contribute to the team’s success.