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Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Red Wings will live and die by their top line

Two games into the 2019-20 season, and the Detroit Red Wings have two wins against what should be two of the better teams in the NHL in the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars.

It’s a far cry from last season when it took them eight games to win their first game.

Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha have picked up where they left off last season, which included scoring a combined 39 points in the season’s final eight games, by scoring a combined 16 points in the first two games this season. The trio has scored eight of the team’s first nine goals with Luke Glendening the only player not on the top line with a goal.

And while Red Wings fans should be excited these three are producing while still in rebuilding mode, the underlying numbers suggest the trio won’t be able to sustain this scoring for the entire season, and when that inevitable cold streak occurs, the team will come crashing down to Earth with them.

In the 24:28 Bertuzzi, Larkin and Mantha have been on the ice together at 5 on 5, their score-adjusted Corsi for percentage is 51.82%. When the three of them are off the ice, it drops to 40.19%.

Detroit is shooting 14.8% in two games, well above the league average of 9.6% — for reference, they shot 9.4% last season, slightly below the league average of 9.5%. And with an abnormally high shooting percentage generally comes an abnormally high PDO — 107% at 5 on 5 to be exact, which climbs to 109.2% in all situations.

At 5 on 5, the trio is shooting a combined 46.02%. When all three are off the ice, that number plummets to 4.23%. Mantha alone is shooting 38.5%, well above his career shooting percentage of 13.2%.

Yes, two games is a very small sample size, and it’s not uncommon to see these kinds of shooting percentages early in the season (plus, I think even the most casual fan understands Mantha will not keep up the 205-goal pace he currently is on). But with no secondary scoring beyond the top line, future opponents will know that as long as they shut down the first line, they have a good chance of winning.

The return of Andreas Athanasiou should help ease the top line’s burden, but the drop off after Athanasiou is significant as far as offensive production. With the callups of Evgeny Svechnikov and Ryan Kuffner to fill in for Athanasiou and Frans Nielsen going on injured reserve, the Red Wings essentially are icing three depth lines behind their top scoring line. That’s not to say Svechnikov can’t perform at the NHL level, but he’s only played 16 NHL games and is coming off an ACL injury; some growing pains are expected.

As a fan, you like to see the team’s top players score, even if the chances for a playoff berth are slim to none. If you’re on Team Tank, you’d ideally like to see them produce offensively but still lose a close one-goal game. That way, the players still improve their confidence on an individual level, but the team gives itself the best possible chance to win a lottery pick in next summer’s draft.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference.