Welcome to another edition of Wings Weekly, a weekly review of the 2017-18 Detroit Red Wings season! The Wings closed out 2017 and opened 2018 on positive notes. They’ve been getting scoring from key players and very strong goaltending from Jimmy Howard.
After starting with a 5-6-4 record on home ice through their first 15 home games, the Wings seem to have finally unleashed the power of LCA as they’ve built themselves a nice little five game home win streak. Three of those wins came in the last week.
I went back through old posts and determined that this is only the second column I’m writing where the Wings have won all of the games in the week.
This week’s victories started on New Year’s Eve against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite being outshot 38-23, the Wings eked out a 4-1 victory on the backs of Gustav Nyquist, who scored two goals, and Jimmy Howard, who stopped 37 shots. You could argue that he even stopped 38 as he made a beautiful glove save on Evgeni Malkin that was later deemed a goal because he caught it just behind the goal line. It’s hard to say the Wings played well as they were out-attempted 56-39 and out-chanced 28-19 at 5v5. They were certainly inspired by Howie who pulled off a New Year’s miracle.
In their first game of 2018, Andreas Athanasiou decided to bear his teeth as he wired seven shots on Craig Anderson, two of which found the back of the net. The first was a rebound off a nice between-the-legs shot by Anthony Mantha and the second was the overtime winner on a breakaway a mere six seconds into the extra frame. It was a relieving goal for him after failing on breakaway attempts all game. He was unstoppable this game and his overtime goal was the fastest in NHL history.
Athanasiou’s flame continued to burn as he scored 42 seconds into Friday’s game against the Panthers. It was, you guessed it, another breakaway. He also added an assist in the 4-2 victory that saw Mantha with the game winning goal, which came on the powerplay in the third period. Marty Frk wired a shot from the point and it actually went through Mantha’s stick into the net. So Mantha was credited with the goal and Frk with the assist. The Wings got more elite goaltending from Howard as he turned away 38 of the Panthers’ 40 shots. Their goaltending and scoring touch lifted them above the Panthers, but man their possession game was lacking as they exited with a 38.89 CF% at 5v5.
The Regular Stats
Athanasiou lead the points charge this week with four points in his last two games. Him and Dylan Larkin are really clicking right now, but, as Craig Custance pointed out in his latest for The Athletic, they need to start planning for when teams show up with a game plan for dealing with them.
Nyquist added three goals this week, lifting the Wings over the Penguins and adding insurance against the Panthers. It was nice to see him hit the back of the net again, especially with the finesse that he broke into the league with.
Finally, Henrik Zetterberg’s last assist this week was the 600th of his career. This milestone has him 6th on the Red Wings all-time assist leaders and four behind Pavel Datsyuk. No doubt he’ll have the number five spot before this season is out.
There are a few things to take note of here. First, Larkin’s 34 points is two more than he had all of last season. The fact that most of them are in the form of assists goes to show how much of a playmaker he’s become. By the way, he has as many assists as Zetterberg has points. Impressive!
Second, Nyquist’s 13 goals is one more than he had in all of last season. Only one has come on the powerplay, which speaks volumes about the Wings PP production and Nyquist’s 5v5 play. He’s on goals for 26 goals this year, which is two less than his career high. He’s dangerously high to having the best scoring season of his career.
Third, Justin Abdelkader’s 19 points is two less than he had all of last season. He’s on pace to record 40 points, a barrier he hasn’t broken since he played on a line with Pavel Datsyuk. After an off year last year, Abby has found his game again.
Hey that’s funny – those are the three Red Wings I wrote this week!
The Fancy Stats
This was not a great Corsi week for the Red Wings as they failed to break the 50% mark in even a single game. Their 42.77 all situations Corsi-For percentage from December 31 to January 6 is 2nd worst in the league, but their 12.99 shooting percentage is 4th best. To top it all off, Jimmy Howard’s .964 save percentage is seventh best in the league.
This just goes to show how elite goaltending can steal games when your offense capitalizing on their chances.
I know I say this every week, but man, Dylan Larkin is a workhorse. He is far and away Detroit’s best player this season.
Anthony Mantha has crawled up this chart this week and it’s because of a change in his linemates. Notice that Zetterberg and Nyquist are still at the bottom. When he plays with them, Mantha normally hovers around the middle of the chart, but away from them he shoots up. Now, playing with Frk, both of them have positive relative Corsi-For percentages.
Another standout is Xavier Ouellet, who’s faced heavy criticism this season for his play. After being a healthy scratch for several games, Ouellet seems to have quietly improved his play. I have to admit, I haven’t noticed him that much on the ice, but I’ll sure be watching him more closely now.
It’s amazing what a week of victories can do to the standings. Last week, Detroit was below Montreal and Florida. Suddenly, they have leapfrogged both teams and are nine points behind Toronto with two games in hand.
They’re even closer to the wild card spot, a mere five points behind the Carolina Hurricanes, but they need to leapfrog three Metropolitan Division teams to get there, including the defending Stanley Cup champs. At the halfway point of the season, I’m still hesitant to write the Penguins off. They are only four points behind the Blue Jackets for third place in the Metro. I have a feeling they will be top-3 in that Division by the time the season ends.
THE WINGS NATION PLAYER OF THE WEEK
This week’s player of the week is Andreas Athanasiou. Not only did he lead the team in goals and points this week, Athanasiou took advantage of the additional ice time he was rewarded by taking a team high 13 shots. He had goalies on their toes as he went in for breakaway after breakaway and was smart with his passing, finding open lanes for the best possible opportunity.
When he plays at this level, Athanasiou can’t be stopped. He’s like a bolt of lightning – Greece Lightning – that fries his opponents.
In conclusion, it’s nice to see the Wings winning again, but they are relying heavily on goaltending. Luckily, Howie has been out of this world good. To balance it out, a couple of key offensive threats – namely Athanasiou and Nyquist – have been capitalizing on their scoring chances. The Wings still have some details to work on as they learn to trust the process.
Still, a four game winning streak is a four game winning streak. 2018 is looking good for this team so far.
Detroit hosts the first place Lightning tonight before getting a five day rest in their bye week. With the way the team is playing right now, I’m interested to see how they do against a team like the Lightning. The rest this week is an earned one and hopefully they can come back next week recharged for a rematch against the Pittsburgh Penguins who will certainly be looking for vengeance for the New Year’s Eve game.
Sunday, January 7 – vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:00 P.M. ET
Saturday, January 13 – @ Pittsburgh Penguins, 1:00 P.M. ET