Red Wings roll on toward top of NHL
Confidence, poise have Red Wings among NHL's best teams
DETROIT – Henrik Zetterberg's Detroit Red Wings have spent the past week ruining other teams' winning streaks and toying with the lowly Buffalo Sabres while simultaneously racing toward the top of the NHL.
The St. Louis Blues were enjoying a five-game winning streak before the Red Wings visited Thursday and downed them with 2.2 seconds remaining in overtime. Pavel Datsyuk was the hero. He has been there, done that, and why not do it again, this time in St. Louis.
That game was preceded by a 3-1 Red Wings win on Dominik Hasek's jersey retirement night in Buffalo. Welcome back Hasek: here's why you left Buffalo for Detroit.
On Saturday, it was the Nashville Predators' turn to take on the Wings. They were without All-Star goalie Pekka Rinne and were heading into a rowdy Joe Louis Arena, where the Red Wings hadn't played since Dec. 31. It definitely wasn't an inviting atmosphere for the Predators, who had to play the tough Washington Capitals the night before. Yet, they do have the most points in the NHL and have been touted as a team with a new-look, high-powered offense in the post-Barry Trotz era.
Forget it: the Red Wings were ahead 3-0 before 13 minutes were played. They never looked back and never let up on their way to derailing the Predators, who were on their own five-game winning streak, 5-2.
Then there was Sunday night. The basement-dwelling Sabres entered Joe Louis Arena with a desperate -- really, quite desperate -- need for a win. They were on a 10-game losing streak, had just dropped a close one to the Flyers after getting destroyed, 7-0, by the Minnesota Wild and had lost the previous two meetings with Detroit. The injury-riddled, "Bad News Bears" Sabres needed one thing to go their way, and why not in Detroit? Mike Babcock's squad had just played the night before and he decided to start rookie Petr Mrazek in back-to-back games. This was a game the Sabres could win, right?
They jumped out to a 3-0 lead over the Red Wings in the 1st period, chasing Mrazek, but it was 3-3 before the end of the 2nd period -- a period in which the Red Wings outshot the Sabres 9-1. Zetterberg led the charge with a hat-trick, an assist, two hits and five shots on goal. Soon it was 5-3, then 6-4 and the Sabres had dropped their 11th-straight.
Ask Sabres coach Ted Nolan and he might say his team just isn't ready to compete at this level. They didn't know how to handle the success in the 1st period. They took their foot off the gas and the Red Wings said, "Thanks, we'll take it from here." It was as if the Sabres were spotted three goals.
Ask Babcock and he might say it's because his team didn't show up on time, and when they decided to play in the 2nd period, they proved they are the better squad. It's that simple: The Red Wings happened.
Regardless of how it happened, here we are:
The Red Wings are on a four-game winning streak and are battling for the top spot not only in their division but also in the Eastern Conference, and now the top spot in the league (they are 5 points out of the NHL's first place). They are achieving all this without that "must-have" offseason free agent defenseman signing (read back), without their top two goalies (4th-stringer Tom McCollum earned his first NHL win on Sunday), without Johan Franzen (on IR), and without a new contract for Babcock.
They are winning, and nothing else matters. They never panic no matter what lineup they are going up against (or who is or isn't in their own), and they never worry about the scoreboard. They share the league's best power play percentage -- 25.2 percent -- and have the 5th-best penalty kill. Their poise and confidence is enough to frustrate, terrify and down-right piss off the rest of the league. How can Detroit be doing this again?
From veterans to rookies, Red Wings poised for success
The Red Wings, led by veterans Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall, are the definition of a team running on all cylinders. That confidence and poise starts with these veterans and trickles right down through the entire lineup.
Tomas Tatar has 20 goals in his second NHL season. Gustav Nyquist hasn't missed a beat after his breakout season last year -- he now has 18 goals and 34 points in 46 games. Riley Sheahan is a bonafide second-line NHL center who plays both ends of the ice with authority -- no doubt about it now. Darren Helm looks like a brand-new player with scary speed and strength on the puck. Drew Miller and Luke Glendening are killing penalties in their sleep. The list of accolades is long.
A big, noticeable difference from last season is the defensemen are working as a six-man unit. It helps that the whole roster is playing superb team defense, making it easier on the blue-liners. Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser will have long, fruitful careers if they keep improving like this. The often-criticized Kyle Quincey looks way more comfortable in his role this season while Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson are taking on, and shutting down, the NHL's top lines on a nightly basis.
Rookies Xavier Ouellet and Teemu Pulkkinen have been nothing but positives for this team. They're showing just how deep the organization is over in Grand Rapids, if you needed further proof.
And then there is Mrazek, the 22-year-old netminder who relishes the spotlight. Well, here it is and here he is, putting in work and getting results -- 8 wins, 2.33 GAA and .916 SV%. When Jonas Gustavsson returns from his shoulder injury he likely will sit on the bench. It's Mrazek's job to lose.
Season is a little more than halfway through
There is a lot of hockey to be played before the 2015 playoffs get underway. Things can change quickly in this league -- injuries, losing streaks, etc. Yet, the Red Wings seem to have this thing figured out no matter what comes their way. If they play a full 60 minutes each night, they'll come out ahead in one way or another, more often than not. It's tough to beat a team with so much confidence in itself.
Minnesota Wild are next
The Wild visit Detroit on Tuesday. They are on a two-game winning streak with a game Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
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