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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.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Red Wings' second-quarter grades

DETROIT -- The best team in hockey blossomed during the second quarter of the NHL season … if that's possible.
The Detroit Red Wings have had the most points in league in both of the last two seasons (sharing top spot with Buffalo last winter). This season, the Red Wings continued their success, trailing only Ottawa in the early NHL standings.
Over the past 22 games, however, the Red Wings have gotten better. Going 16-3-2, the Red Wings have brought their season record to a point that rivals the great regular seasons of 1995 and 1995-96.
In the second quarter, the Red Wings were dominant on special teams -- 24.7 percent on their power play while limiting opponents to 12.1 percent on their power play -- and dominant at even strength -- outscoring opponents 50-26. Overall, Detroit outscored it opponents 78-40 over the past 22 games.
All of this was done despite the team's top two goal-scorers -- Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom -- and two of the top defensive forwards -- Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby -- missing significant time with injuries.
What happened over the past quarter-season was this: Pavel Datsyuk played at an MVP level; Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler produced like top-six forwards; Johan Franzen bounced back from an injury-plagued first quarter; Dominik Hasek, Niklas Kronwall and Andreas Lilja regained their form while Chris Osgood maintained his; and Nicklas Lidstrom took more strides towards a sixth Norris Trophy.
At the halfway point in the season, Red Wings fans' biggest worry is their team peaking early.
Here are individual grades for performances over the second quarter of the season. 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. Overall, the grades are high this quarter, but team success dictates as much.

Dominik Hasek: The Dominator is back. Not the MVP-level Dominator, but the good-enough-to-beat-any-team Dominator we've seen in Detroit before. After a weak first quarter, Hasek went 7-2-1 with a 1.77 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. Perhaps backing up Osgood for a week and a half did the trick. A- (C- first quarter)
Chris Osgood: It would be easier to wrap your mind around Ozzie being the backup in the post-season if he wasn't leading the league in goals-against average and save percentage. In the second quarter, Osgood went 9-1-1 with a 1.63 GAA and a .935 save percentage. The team is looking to sign him to a multi-year contract. A+ (A first quarter)
Chris Chelios:
Not much difference between Chelios' first and second quarters and that's a good thing. The lone noticeable difference is that he's had more success on the penalty-kill, being on the ice for just five goals against after being on the ice for 12 goals against in the first quarter. He's not making many mistakes. He's among the best third-pairing defensemen in the NHL. B (B first quarter)
Niklas Kronwall: Nick Jr. made the biggest strides forward among the blue-liners. Kronwall went from a five-point, plus-1 first quarter to being in Lidstrom/Rafalski territory with 14 points and a plus-10 in the second quarter. You know he hits big, but did you know that of the six regular defensemen, Kronwall has the fewest giveaways … by far? For the season, Kronwall has 11 turnovers. The next best total is 21. A- (C first quarter)
Brett Lebda: Lebda had a team-worst 20 giveaways in the second quarter. (Andreas Lilja was second with 13.) You'd love to see more of his dashes with the puck, but they're not necessary, just fun. Lebda coordinates well with Chelios, covering nicely when the veteran pinches. B- (B- first quarter)
Nicklas Lidstrom: Best in the business again. Lidstrom was third on the team with 19 points and led all Wings with a plus-17 in 21 games. He was on the ice for 27 of Detroit's 50 even-strength goals (opposed to just 10 against) and 17 of the team's 24 power-play goals. Here's a goofy stat … Lidstrom wasn't credited with a single hit in the second quarter. A+ (A+ first quarter)
Andreas Lilja: Lilja showed significant improvement in the second quarter, following a minus-4 with a plus-10 (second among defensemen to Lidstrom). For the second straight quarter, Lilja led the team in hits and blocked shots. Detroit outscored opponents 18-8 at even-strength with Lilja on the ice in the second quarter after being outscored 14-9 in the first quarter. He's even the blue-line version of a switch hitter, being able to move to the left side when partnered with Brian Rafalski or the right side with Kronwall. A- (C- first quarter)
Derek Meech: He's being used strictly as a spare part, getting in only when Chelios is given a rest. That meant that Meech got into only three games in the second quarter and was a minus-1. Not a bad seventh defenseman, but not much to grade someone on. D+ (C- first quarter)
Brian Rafalski: Rafalski had very similar first and second quarters, with 19 points in each and being a plus-7 in the first and a plus-6 in the second. Like Lidstrom, Rafalski doesn't hit. Coach Mike Babcock has taken to splitting up that pairing at times to put a hitter (Lilja or Kronwall) with a non-hitter (Lidstrom or Rafalski). Mathieu Schneider was always looked at as a power-play specialist, but he wasn't. Schneider had more even-strength goals than Lidstrom. Rafalski, however, is a power-play force with five of his six goals and 21 of his 34 points coming with the man-advantage. A- (B+ first quarter)
Dan Cleary:
Cleary's niche among the forwards is his versatility and his consistency. Tomas Holmstrom's hurt? Put Cleary net-front on the top unit. Need another faceoff man on the ice? Cleary. Penalty-kill? Cleary. Man-advantage? Cleary. (He was on the ice for 13 of Detroit's 24 second-quarter power-play goals.) Need a goal? Cleary's one of eight on this team who scores regularly. He had seven goals, 15 points and was a plus-8 in the second quarter. This is the type of forward that makes a great team a championship team. A- (B+ first quarter)
Pavel Datsyuk: If you're not watching this guy, you're missing something. Datsyuk has enough flash to catch a casual fan's eye. Dats led the Wings with 12 goals this quarter and the team's forwards with a plus-12. But he also does a ton of little things. Datsyuk led all Detroit forwards in blocked shots in both the first and second quarters. He leads the league in takeaways again (led the NHL in 2006-07) and has more takeaways than any other three Red Wings combined. He also led Detroit in shots on goal this quarter (81). Datsyuk has to be a serious Hart and Selke candidate. A+ (A+ first quarter)
Aaron Downey: Because of injuries, Downey got into 18 second-quarter games after playing just nine in the first quarter. Despite getting five or six minutes of ice time per game, Downey still managed to lead all Detroit forwards in hits (32) in the second quarter. Downey had one game this quarter where he played one shift and had three hits. His one point this season -- breakaway pass to Johan Franzen -- was sweet. And his police work is impeccable. B- (C+ first quarter)
Dallas Drake: After being a minus-6 in the first quarter, Drake was a plus-2 in the second. In addition, Drake played 20 games, putting his first-quarter injuries behind him. He kills penalties very well and has taken on the role as secondary policeman. With Drake and Downey, the Red Wings are on pace to have their most fighting majors since 1997-98. B- (D first quarter)
Kris Draper: Injuries kept Draper out of nine second-quarter games, which hurt his grade. His scoring tailed off (two goals and five points in 12 games this quarter), but Draper still contributed. Most impressively, Draper was on the ice for just one opposition power-play goal in his past 12 games despite being on the first wave of penalty killers. He was a plus-3 in the second quarter. B- (B first quarter)
Matt Ellis: Ellis has been bounced between center and wing of late, but has looked more effective in the middle. His offense dropped off this quarter (one assist in 17 games) and he was a minus-1. C- (B- first quarter)
Valtteri Filppula: After an eight-point, plus-2 first quarter, Filppula put up 10 goals, 14 points and was a plus-12 in the second quarter. No forward had a better plus-minus this quarter. Filppula meshes well with Datsyuk or he can center the second line if Datsyuk is reunited with Zetterberg. Two penalty-shot goals in three games was a highlight. A- (B- first quarter)
Johan Franzen: The Mule is another Wing who put injuries behind him. Franzen had no points and was a minus-2 in the first quarter. This quarter, Franzen had seven goals and was a plus-11. He's now the team's top agitator other than Downey. Franzen's starting to look like a Cy Young candidate again with a 7-2 line on his scoring stats. A- (C- first quarter)
Mark Hartigan: Four call-ups led to eight games played for Hartigan and he fared well. He showed speed and offensive touch. He's obviously the 15th forward in this franchise, however. C (no grade first quarter)
Tomas Holmstrom: A bad knee kept Holmstrom out of eight games in the second quarter. Homer still managed six goals and 11 points in his 13 games. He also cut his penalty minutes down from 28 in the first quarter to 12 in the second quarter. The Red Wings only outscored their opponents 10-9 at even strength with homer on the ice this quarter, which isn't a good stat on this squad. B (A first quarter)
Jiri Hudler: Hudler was third among forwards behind Datsyuk and Zetterberg with 17 points this quarter. (Fourth on the team with Lidstrom added in.) Hudler has been good defensively throughout his term in Detroit, although he often gets knocked for his work on that end of the ice. In the second quarter, Hudler was on the ice for just four goals allowed compared to 13 even-strength goals for. A- (B+ first quarter)
Tomas Kopecky: The tall Slovak has settled into his role as a modern-day grind-liner with good touch in deep. Kopecky was second among to Downey in the second quarter with 31 hits. He also scored three goals. B (B- first quarter)
Kirk Maltby: In an odd twist, the Red Wings' resident iron man missed 17 games this quarter with a back strain. In his four games, he had one assist and was an even plus-minus. D (B- first quarter)
Mikael Samuelsson: The man can shoot the puck. Only Datsyuk and Zetterberg have more shots on goal than Samuelsson. Still, Samuelsson is just ninth on the team in goals scored (six), raking last among forwards who get top-three line minutes. Samuelsson is another underrated defensive player. Opponents scored just four even-strength goals with him on the ice in the second quarter with Detroit scoring 11 goals. B+ (B first quarter)
Henrik Zetterberg: It's tempting to give Zetterberg an A+ despite missing five games with back spasms. He still managed 11 goals, 22 points and a plus-6 in his 16 games. But there's got to be some differentiation between a healthy Zetterberg and a hobbled Zetterberg. His back seemed fine, Wednesday, in his return from the injury, allowing him to notch two points. That brings his season total to 52 points in 36 games … which extrapolates to 118 points over a full season. A (A+ first quarter)


Blogger Alex said...

I was most curious about your grade for Lebda. I was expecting in the C range. I just feel like he hasn't been effective lately.

January 4, 2008 at 2:02 AM 
Blogger Bruce MacLeod said...

Hey Alex,
I actually started with Lebda as a C+ and bumped him up at the last second. Even as a B-, I have him as the sixth out of six defensemen, well behind the top four. I wouldn't argue with a C grade.

January 4, 2008 at 1:24 PM 
Anonymous Jeremy said...

Lebda reminds me of another Dandenault, above average speed but other than that, nothing much else. I wonder if he could be part of a package come deadline time for a more stable defenseman.

January 4, 2008 at 2:13 PM 

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