Welcome to another edition of Wings Weekly, a weekly review of the 2017-18 Detroit Red Wings season! After a brief Christmas hiatus last Sunday, I’m back with the final column of the year, one with a mixed bag of good and bad, satisfied and unsatisfied, excited and scared.
Despite some good moments in 2017, the Wings lost more hockey games than they won. The last week of the year was no different. It felt like a Holiday hangover that just wouldn’t go away.
Last Sunday, the Wings had a must-win game against the Division rival Boston Bruins. They lost and it wasn’t even really close. Just like a week earlier, the Bruins superstars had their way with the Red Wings defense, with Brad Marchand scoring once and Patrice Bergeron scoring twice. The only redeeming part of this game was a shorthanded goal by Patrice Bergeron.
After this game, the Wings got a few days off for Christmas break to think about how they’ve played. They returned December 27th against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Centre. In another 3-1 loss, the Wings were tortured by the young Devils team as Nico Hischier scored twice in the final five minutes of the first period. Detroit was out-shot 25-19 and out-attempted 44-39 at 5v5. Abdelkader scored once in the second period, but the team didn’t have enough gas in the tank to steal the game.
Finally, in Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, the Wings managed to squeeze out a 3-2 shootout victory. It was an exciting game, as the always-epic match-up of Howard vs. Lundqvist played out over the course of 65 minutes. In the end, it was Frans Nielsen who secured the victory with the 47th shootout goal of his career. With a 50% shootout rate, Nielsen is the best in the NHL.
Overall, the Wings flaws were badly exposed in these three games. They held their own against the Rangers, but were still trailing in the shot and shot attempt departments. They are not using their speed enough to challenge their opponents and keep them on their heels. When they do, it results in some amazing highlight reel goals from their most electric players, such as Athanasiou’s beauty against the Rangers.
— Nick (@nickseguin19) December 30, 2017
The Regular Stats
Tyler Bertuzzi makes his first appearance on this list as he recorded his first career assist against the Devils on Wednesday. His performance was good enough to earn him a spot on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist as well as the net front role on the second powerplay unit. Bert’s played with a lot of spunk and I think he’ll be a serviceable Red Wing going forward.
Other than him, the only notable point performances were from Dylan Larkin, who continues to own the team’s leaderboard this year, and Andreas Athanasiou who netted his first goal since November 19th, a stretch of 15 games. With Mantha out of the lineup with a nagging groin injury, Larkin and Athanasiou played on a line together against New York and they looked amazing. They were by far the best players on the ice, of both teams, and could do some serious damage together if kept on a line going forward.
With his assist against the Rangers, Larkin’s point total is now one less than his total for all of last season. It’s quite the comeback for the young centerman who continues to be Detroit’s best player this season.
Anthony Mantha was knocked out of the second place spot as Zetterberg surpassed him with his highlight reel goal against the Rangers. The captain continues to impress, though not as much as he did last season. He’s still an amazing NHL player for a 37-year-old.
One player who I don’t think is getting enough praise this year is Justin Abdelkader. Abby’s been a net-front machine and crucial to the success of his line with Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm. He took a lot of heat last year for his contract, but this year he is making up for it, producing at a fair rate for what the Wings are paying him.
The Fancy Stats
This chart continues to emulate a rollercoaster with its ups and downs every game. After a terrible showing against the Philadelphia Flyers (38.61 5v5 CF%), they bounced back to flirt with that 50% line against the Bruins. Then, they fell a few notches against the Devils and Rangers to where we’re used to seeing them: in that 46%-49% range. Frankly, this is what I expect of them. Anything higher is a bonus and lower is just terrible.
From an individual standpoint, Dylan Larkin is far and away the best puck possession player on this team. He uses his speed to chase the puck and his strength to hold on to it. Athanasiou benefited from that on Friday and as a result has climbed a few spots on this chart.
Luke Witkowski, with a small sample size, is easily in last place. Luckily, Jeff Blashill has opted to go with David Booth as of late. Tyler Bertuzzi will have ample opportunity to increase his relative Corsi-For rating as Blashill continues to find the right spot for him in the lineup. It won’t get any better playing with Zetterberg and Nyquist, as they have been chasing the puck all season.
Two standouts on this chart are Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson. Both players have faced the wrath of fans for the last couple of seasons and they’ve really turned their respective games around to be positive forces on the ice. I still don’t think Kronwall should be getting any 3-on-3 time, but that is a topic for another day.
Detroit is falling dangerously behind in the Atlantic Division standings. If they want any shot at the playoffs, they have to be winning games like last Saturday against Boston. Instead, the teams ahead of them are able to put more and more distance between them.
At this point, I think it’s clear who the top-3 teams in the division are going to be. Yes, there’s more than half the season to go, but based on the play we’ve seen so far, these are clearly the best teams in the division and I don’t see a Florida or a Montreal surpassing them. For Detroit, there’s even less of a chance.
THE WINGS NATION PLAYER OF THE WEEK
This week’s player of the week goes to Tyler Bertuzzi. In his second call-up of the season, Lil Bert played his way onto the top line and second powerplay unit, recording one assist, five shots, and a plus-1 rating. He’s been fun to watch and I’m excited to see what he can bring to this team going forward.
In conclusion, this is not the end to 2017 that the Wings were looking for. They need to have a far better winning percentage than what they have now if they want to be in the conversation for the playoffs. Dylan Larkin can only do so much on his own, but pairing him with Athanasiou seemed to work really well. It would be interesting to see what Tyler Bertuzzi could bring to that line as well.
With more kids playing and playing well, maybe there is still some hope for this team in 2018. Only time will tell.
The Wings have one more game in 2017 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s the first game of a four game homestand against teams in their division.
Sunday, December 31 – vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:00 P.M. ET
Wednesday, January 3 – vs. Ottawa Senators, 7:30 P.M. ET
Friday, January 5 – vs. Florida Panthers, 7:30 P.M. ET