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Up-to-the minute updates and insights from the Red Wings locker room at home and on the road. By Chuck Pleiness of The Macomb Daily.

Monday, November 19, 2007

First-quarter grades

DETROIT -- Chicago is not the Detroit Red Wings' kind of town. It might be a toddlin' town, but it's not a town that easy to get a win.
That has been the only bad news for the Red Wings in a big-picture sense during the first quarter of the NHL season.
Through their first 20 games, the Red Wings' 14-5-1 record is best in the Western Conference and trails only the Ottawa Senators in the overall standings. Although the Red Wings are 0-3-1 against Chicago, they're 13-2-1 against the rest of the league with a power play that ranks sixth overall (22.1 percent) and a penalty-kill unit that ranks 11th (83.6 percent).
The Red Wings are on track to reach the playoffs for the 17th consecutive season and win their seventh consecutive Central Division title, providing that Chicago doesn't start beating the rest of the league as often as it beats the Red Wings.
Within that team consistency, however, are several individual swings that have marked the first quarter of the season as unique.
Here are individual grades for performances over the first 20 games. The focus of the grade is overall contribution. Thus if someone plays in just five games -- either because of injury or being scratched -- his grade will be low.

Goalies
Dominik Hasek C-: A .859 save percentage? A 5-4-1 record with this team? Either Hasek is in a lengthy slump of age has caught up to him. He's coughing up more rebounds than usual. How's this for an odd stat … although he has split time with Chris Osgood, Hasek has been in net for all five goal allowed by Detroit while on the power play. (One other occurred with Detroit's goalie pulled.) Hasek has a .737 save percentage with Detroit on the power play.
Chris Osgood A: Osgood is clearly the better goalie right now. But with Hasek in line to be the playoff goalie, Osgood is part of a goalie rotation. Osgood finally had his 20-game streak without a regulation loss snapped, but still finished the first quarter with a 9-1-0 record and a .931 save percentage. He's one of the top netminders in the league through 20 games.

Defensemen
Chris Chelios B:
Chelios no longer hits … he's 14th among Detroit regulars with just a dozen. He gives the puck away too often (tops among defensemen with 14). But that's about all that you can put on the minus side of his ledger. Chelios is still above average at even strength, often being bumped up to the second blue-line pairing when Andreas Lilja falters. And he's wonderful on the penalty kill.
Niklas Kronwall C: Foremost, Kronwall had just one injury (groin) that caused him to miss four games. That's good by Kronwall standards. The offensive contributions, however, aren't there (one goal, five points). Kronwall is versatile, being one of only five Wings to log more than two minutes per game of both power-play and short-handed time. (Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary are the others.) But the even-strength pairing with Lilja isn't working. Kronwall has been on the ice for 10 even-strength goals against. Only Lilja has been on for more.
Brett Lebda B-: In three years, Lebda has gone from surprise NHLer to an every-game player. At even strength, the Red Wings have outscored opponents 14-7 with Lebda on the ice. A member of the second power-play unit, the Red Wings have scored as many goals per 60 minutes of ice time with Lebda (8.1) as they have with Lidstrom (7.8).
Nicklas Lidstrom A+: With point-a-game production and a team-best plus-14, Lidstrom is off to a better start than he has the past couple of years, begging the question: Do they need to create a higher honor than the Norris Trophy? Detroit has outscored opponents 25-6 at even strength with Lidstrom on the ice, which translates to a 4-1 score per 60 minutes. Here's a freak stat for Lidstrom … while he's been on the ice for only six even-strength goals against, he's been on the power play for five short-handed goals against. There's a small area to work on.
Andreas Lilja C-: Lilja didn't deserve the fan criticism he received the past two seasons. This season, however, Lilja is off to a bad start. Detroit has been outscored 14-9 with Lilja on the ice at even strength, which isn't easy to do on this team. Those 14 goals against are four more than the next highest Red Wing, his partner, Kronwall. On the plus side, Lilja does lead the team in hits (40) and blocked shots (29). And he might be the team's best penalty killer at defense. Lilja has been on the ice for just two 5-on-4 goals against. (Lidstrom has been on for eight, Chelios for eight and Kronwall for three.)
Derek Meech C-: After being a healthy scratch in the first 11 games, Meech got into six of the last nine games and fared well. Meech has been coddled, getting less than 10 minutes of ice time in five of his six games and totaling just 15 seconds of special teams time. But Meech has shown that he can move the pass via pass or skating and is a very good positional player. He's an NHLer, which was the question entering the seasons.
Brian Rafalski B+: Rafalski has contributed nicely offensively with 17 points with 11 coming on the power play. He's fourth on the team with a plus-7 and he eats up ice time, which was imperative when Kronwall was injured. He has been on the ice for 16 of the team's 21 power-play goals. But Rafalski has shown defensive shortcomings with occasional turnovers. He also seems to be weaker in transition defense than in defensive-zone coverage, getting burned on challenges.

Forwards
Dan Cleary B+:
Cleary hasn't drawn much notice, but he should. You'd stump many with these questions: Who's third on the Red Wings in goals scored (Cleary with six); who's sixth in scoring (Cleary with 11 points; and who is the only Red Wing other than Lidstrom with at least 53 minutes of ice time on both the power play and penalty-kill (Cleary)? He and Kris Draper have been the top two penalty killers up front. Opponents average just 3.2 power-play goals per 60 minutes with Cleary on the ice compared with 6.1 goals against for the Red Wings as a team.
Pavel Datsyuk A+: The best one-on-one player in the world. About the only shortcoming to Datsyuk's first quarter is that he scored just four goals. But he's the sort of player who can turn a game around with a goal like he did in Columbus, Sunday. Datsyuk leads the league in takeaways (33) -- a category he led the league in last season. He's also Detroit's top shot-blocking forward (10). No Detroit forward has been on the ice for fewer even-strength goals against per 60 minutes (1.2) than Datsyuk. At the same time, no regular has been on the ice for more even-strength goals scored per 60 minutes (4.0). Datsyuk also leads the Red Wings in penalties drawn.
Aaron Downey C+: Downey has done nothing wrong. He just hasn't been given a lot of opportunity. In his nine games, Downey is a plus-1. He has played the role of policeman well, taking on Kyle McLaren and Rob Davison. Downey is also a rah-rah guy whose locker room humor keeps his teammates smiling. In 37:27 of even-strength ice time, he has yet to be on the ice for an opposition goal.
Dallas Drake D: The grade is not for alliteration's sake. Drake has had a nightmare start to the season. The worst part was being run head-first into the boards by McLaren (see Downey), fracturing Drake's cheekbone. After a very good preseason, Drake's regular-season start saw him tally no goals and one assist in the 14 games when he wasn't injured or a healthy scratch. On top of that, Drake is a team-worst minus-6 … the Red Wings have been outscored 7-1 at even strength with him on the ice.
Kris Draper B: Draper had a Cy Young start to his season with a 5-0 scoring line through seven games. Draper hasn't scored a goal since then, but has four assists in the past 13 games. His penalty killing is even better than it was last winter. Despite being on the ice for loads of 5-on-3 penalty killing time, opponents on a power play still score at the rate of just 5.6 goals per 60 minutes with Draper on the ice. (The team average is 6.1 goals against per 60 minutes.)
Matt Ellis B-: Ellis was a last-day addition to the roster at the end of training camp with he and Downey being the 22nd and 23rd roster spots settled. Now, it's difficult to imagine Ellis playing anywhere else. The rookie has two goals, four points and is a plus-3 in his 12 games. The most impressive thing about Ellis' play is that the Red Wings have been able to score at even strength with him. A good fourth line doesn't score often, but doesn't allow many goals against. That was Josh Langfeld last season. That's Aaron Downey this season. But with Ellis on the ice, the Red Wings are outscoring opponents 4.4-1.8 per 60 minutes. That's more goals per minute than with any other player on the ice.
Valtteri Filppula B-: Filppula has been getting knocked down and around more often this year than last. The young Finn with smarts and talent has been given significant opportunities this season, but hasn't cashed in yet. Filppula has centered the second line for most of the season (he started as the third-line center) and has the sixth most ice time among forwards. But his offense -- three goals, seven points, plus-2 -- is not that far ahead of lesser used forwards like Kirk Maltby and Ellis. Right now, the Wings' attack with Filppula on the ice (2.2 goals per 60 minutes of even-strength time) is similar to that with Draper and Maltby on the ice. The team needs that to rise to what Robert Lang produced last season.
Johan Franzen C-: Franzen has had a similar start to that of Drake, but with a better defensive record. The Mule was sidelined by a knee injury then a severe gash to his forehead. In his 10 games, not only is Franzen without a goal or assist, the Red Wings are without a goal in his 102 minutes of even-strength ice time. On the flip side, Franzen has been on the ice for only two goals against and Game 20 was the first in which the opposition scored a power-play goal with Franzen on the ice.
Tomas Holmstrom A: It's tempting to knock Holmstrom's grade down to an A- because of all of the penalties he has taken (team worst 14 minor penalties). But how do you penalize a guy (no pun intended) for referees' mistakes? Holmstrom has been the victim of several poor goalie interference calls. As it stands, Holmstrom is second on the team with 11 goals. His career has gone from fourth-line time to a point-a-game first-liner. As for the power play, 17 of Detroit's 21 goals have come with Holmstrom on the ice. If puck control is the Red Wings' signature, Homer's net-front play comes a close second.
Jiri Hudler B+: Hudler has clearly become the Red Wings' most dangerous offensive forward outside of the top line. Bounced between the fourth and second lines, given power-play remnants of the second unit, Hudler has produced five goals and 10 points and is a plus-2 in 20 games. Hudler not only knows how to put the puck in the net, but where to be on the ice offensively and defensively. The only downside to his season has been that he's been on the ice for seven even-strength goals allowed (and 11 goals for), which is a higher rate than the team average and worse rate than Hudler had last season.
Tomas Kopecky B-: First off, you've got to love the fight that Kopecky had in Chicago … designed to get the Wings jump started. His first NHL fight puts Kopecky third on the Wings this season behind Drake (three) and Downey (two). The young Slovak gets no special-teams time and his ice time per game is lower than that of anyone other than Ellis and Downey. But he's figured a way to contribute. Kopecky can bang a little and when he gets the puck in the offensive zone, he's dangerous. The Red Wings have outscored opponents at even strength 7-3 with Kopecky on the ice.
Kirk Maltby B-: Maltby is having a better season that a year ago. First off, he's a plus-2. Last season, Maltby was a team-worst minus-9. The season before, he was a team-worst minus-9. Two seasons ago, Maltby was a team-best plus-24. Go figure. The biggest reason for Maltby's improved plus-minus this season is on the offensive end. For two years, the Red Wings haven't been able to score with Maltby on the ice. This season, Detroit averages 2.0 goals per 60 even-strength minutes with Maltby out there with the team average being 2.9. That might not sound like much, but for a defensive forward, that's enough.
Mikael Samuelsson B: Samuelsson's stats have snuck up on us all. The big Swede has missed four games, but is sixth on the team with 11 points. Samuelsson has been in and out of the second power-play unit, playing both up front and on the point. His best trait is that he can get a shot on goal from anywhere and make it dangerous. On a team full of passers and grinders, that's important. Only Zetterberg gets off more shots.
Henrik Zetterberg A+: Zetterberg's phenomenal start has drawn raves internationally. Who am I to disagree? He's become a remarkable scorer with points in 19 of the 20 games. He leads the team with 14 goals and 30 points and is a plus-9 to boot. There was a time when Zetterberg would rather pass than shoot. Now, he rivals Brendan Shanahan for turning games into shooting galleries. Zetterberg doesn't have a flaw in his game, including defensive presence and being good in the faceoff circle. Zetterberg is second on the team to Datsyuk in takeaways (16). He's the Wings' first legitimate MVP candidate in years.

2 Comments:

Blogger curtis1286 said...

Bruce;
I think a B+ for Brian Rafalski is quite generous of you. I agree that he's given up too many turnovers, and his D transition coverage is lackluster,but his defensive zone coverage isn't great either, which is surprising to me since he's such a good skater. I understand he's undersized, but I rarely see him aggressively challenge the puck carrier. I've watched him play in Jersey, I know there's more there, and I would like to see Babcock maybe challenge him somehow, albeit it cant be in the same fashion as Lilja, but maybe a "demotion" to playing with Lebda or another young guy and 15 minutes per game?
I dont want to totally downplay him, he is a good defenseman. I just feel the amount of money Ilitch has invested in him, I expected the gameplay on par with or at least close to Nicklas Lidstrom

November 19, 2007 at 9:47 PM 
Blogger Alex said...

Excellent update. I can't wait for the next one when the season is 50% done. I imagine Franzen will get a better grade by then, Drake will improve a little bit, and Rafalski will keep his B+ and earn it more than he did this time.

November 20, 2007 at 12:49 AM 

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