Goaltending Is the Real Reason Behind the Red Wings Latest Stretch of Wins

The Detroit Red Wings have had a good stretch of games. Since opening their season with an 0-5-2 record, the team has turned around its fortunes with a 7-3-0 record in their last ten.

There’s a lot that goes into winning hockey games and I was curious about what clicked for the Red Wings after their first seven games of losing. Was it the return of veteran D-men to the lineup or the fact that four different players scored four goals each in this stretch? Ultimately, I wanted to determine if this is sustainable for them or if we should be expecting some regression. So I dug into the numbers, comparing the underlying stats of the last 10 games to the first seven games.

It quickly became clear what the real reason behind the team’s latest stretch was.

To find the answer I was looking for, it took the process of elimination. Offensively, the team was the victim of some bad luck as they were suffering a 7.5% shooting percentage (all situations) which is now a more normal 10.53%. At 5-on-5, though, their shooting percentage is roughly the same, jumping from 6% to 6.7%. They are scoring more, led by Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou, but the quality of their shots has been worse and their shot attempt percentage has dropped by four points. They are also shooting at about the same rate.

So yes, there’s no doubt more goals are being scored, but the change in their scoring rate is pretty minimal when you look at the difference in their goals for-per-60.

Defensively, the team is allowing more shots and more quality shots at that. That rules out the idea that the vets returning to the lineup have made huge defensive contributions. Trevor Daley and Mike Green have both looked particularly bad in their own zone. Dennis Cholowski has been the bright spot on the blueline, but even his 5v5 on-ice shot attempt percentage is below 50% and fourth among team defensemen.

This is not an indictment on Cholowski. He’s been the best part of the team so far this season and has a lot of room (and time) to grow. He should not be counted on to carry the defensive load of this team as a 20-year-old rookie. The return of the veterans was supposed to help, but the underlying stats above rule them out as the reason for, or even a contributing factor to, the Red Wings success in the last 10 games.

The most glaring change in stats on the above chart is very clearly the goals against-per-60. In their first seven games, their opponents scored three times or more in every game, four times or more in four of the games, and seven times or more in two of the games.

Man, I forgot just how bad that stretch of games was.

Since their win against the Panthers, the Wings have done a better job of stifling their opponents offense, allowing four goals only once in the 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

As we saw above, there wasn’t a huge change to their offense and their defensive play has actually gotten worse, so this can only be coming from one place: goaltending.

That’s quite the improvement from both Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier, who have been facing an average of 37.6 shots-per-game.

Their collective .930 save percentage speaks for itself, but it’s even more impressive when you take into consideration the Wings have the second lowest high danger shot attempt percentage (32.22%) and the best high danger save percentage in the league (93.98%), per naturalstattrick.

Simply put, the team is allowing way more high-danger chances than anyone in the league who isn’t the Anaheim Ducks and their goalies are turning them all away.

It’s really impressive, but it’s far from sustainable.

Howard’s career save percentage is .915 and Bernier’s is .914. They were batting way below their average in the first seven games and way above their average in the last ten.

So where is this team going to net out for the rest of the season? Probably somewhere in the middle of their first seven game performance and last ten.

The numbers reflect pretty accurately what their offensive and defensive output is going to be for the year. If anything, the scoring may regress a bit once Justin Abdelkader’s scoring streak cools down. It’s clear that the team has not been increasing their shot output, despite Jeff Blashill’s silence on that metric as of late.

The real reason between the Wings’ cold and hot start to the season has been goaltending and once Howard/Bernier level out, the losses will start piling up again, albeit not as high as they were at the start of the season.

Until then, we should enjoy the wins as they roll in. And the curly fries. Never forget about those curly fries.

All advanced statistics are from Corsica.hockey unless otherwise stated.