Staked to a large lead in the overall standings because of a tremendous first half (30-8-3), the Red Wings faltered only slightly over their next 17 games (11-4-2) and remain ahead of the pack. In fact, Detroit's 1.41 points per game in the third quarter mirrored a successful first quarter (1.45 points per game with a 1.62 points per game second quarter).
But the devil of the third quarter was in the details.
Detroit's defense remained sound, giving up 2.2 goals per game in the third quarter, which matches the season-long average. The offense and special teams, however, were bad. After scoring 3.5 goals per game in the first half of the season, Detroit managed just 2.8 goals per game in the third quarter.
The power play dropped from 23 percent in the first half to 13 percent in the third quarter while the penalty-kill dropped from 86 percent in the first half to 75 percent in the third quarter. Put it together and the Red Wings were outscored 13-8 in power-play goals in the third quarter.
The biggest cause for concern, however, came in injuries. Near the end of the third quarter, forward Dan Cleary's jaw was broken by a shot and he likely won't return until the playoffs. Cleary was the team's second leading goal scorer when he was sidelined. Earlier in the quarter, defenseman Niklas Kronwall was shelved with a shoulder injury. Then yesterday, the team recalled goalie Jimmy Howard to give Dominik Hasek's hip flexor inflamation a rest.
All of which is bad news in Hockeytown. The good news is that there's one more quarter of the regular season to get the roster healthy, special teams performing and the offense scoring once again.
Here are individual grades for the third quarter (the past 17 games). The grade is for performance in the quarter only. Previous quarters' grades are also listed.
Dominik Hasek: Although he never lost the No. 1 role, Hasek was finally the best goalie on the team in the third quarter. Hasek went 7-1-1 with a 1.55 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage in the quarter, all much better than Chris Osgood's statistics. Hasek has let in a few softies, but the Wings are 14-3-2 with him in net over the past half of the season. A (C- first, A- second)
Chris Osgood: You're not going to read here that Osgood played in the all-star game, signed a new contract and then stopped performing. That's a lame attempt at logic. The three events are coincidence. Osgood had a marvelous first half of the season and tailed off in the third quarter (4-3-2, 2.81 goals-against average, .891 save percentage). That means he's human, not greedy. Ozzie's still having a top-shelf season. B- (A first, A+ second)
Chris Chelios: This might not sound like much, but it's impressive. Chelios doesn't take many penalties any more. The man used to put up 200 minutes just on name alone. In the third quarter, he had just one minor penalty. He's got 20 penalty minutes for the entire season and his penalties drawn to penalties taken ratio is the best among Detroit defensemen. In 16 games this quarter, he was a plus-4, but was also a major component on a faulty penalty-kill. B- (B first, B second)
Niklas Kronwall: Kronwall would have gotten an A for this quarter had he not missed the last six games with a shoulder injury. As it was, his contributions in 11 games trailed only Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski on the blue line. Kronwall had three goals and six points, was a plus-5 and was first among blue-liners in takeaways (19) and second in hits (14). B+ (C first, A- second)
Brett Lebda: Lebda has filled in for Kronwall on the second power-play unit, but there hasn't been much success for that unit of late. The high point of the quarter for Lebda was an overtime goal in Minnesota. That was one of two points (plus-2) in 16 games. Lebda did play a lot of the quarter with a painful left wrist. C+ (B- first, B- second)
Nicklas Lidstrom: The league-wide media is finally tabbing Lidstrom as an MVP candidate. Detroit's players and coaches are pushing for the honor. In the third quarter, Lidstrom had 17 points, including three goals, in 17 games. He was third on the team with a plus-12. And he even threw more hits (nine) than Lebda, Chelios or Brian Rafalski. A+ (A+ first, A+ second)
Andreas Lilja: Took a step back from his standout second quarter. Lilja was low among Detroit defensemen with a minus-2 in 17 games. He was also part of a poor penalty-kill performance this quarter. On the plus side, Lilja led the defense corps in hits (25) and blocked shots (25) for the third straight quarter. B (C- first, A- second)
Derek Meech: After playing in nine games and being a minus-2 in the first half of the season, Meech got into eight games this quarter and was a plus-1. Kronwall's injury has given Meech his opportunity and it's much needed. Meech is still more cautious than he was as an AHLer. But he's slowly coming out of his shell. C (C- first, D+ second)
Brian Rafalski: Here's the odd stat of the quarter … Rafalski was third on the team in goals (four) behind only Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary. Rafalski was also a plus-9 (second only to Lidstrom on the blue line). A- (B+ first, A- second)
Dan Cleary: Amazingly bad timing for Cleary to go down for eight weeks with a broken jaw. Fittingly for the guy who works so hard, he was injured right in front of the net, in the line of duty. Before the injury, Cleary had a remarkable quarter with seven goals and 14 points in 16 games. He was also a plus-10 and filled a bigger variety of roles than anyone on the team. A (B+ first, A- second)
Pavel Datsyuk: Datsyuk had a substantial dropoff in goal production, netting just three in the third quarter. Still, he was a plus-13 (second only to Zetterberg) and had 17 points in 17 games. A- (A+ first, A+ second)
Aaron Downey: Downey got into 10 out of the past 17 games and gets limited ice time. When he does get in, however, he's been active physically and isn't prone to mistakes. Occasionally gets a little turned around in transition defense. C (C+ first, B- second)
Dallas Drake: Got into 10 games this quarter, but was a minus-1 and had just one point. Finished the quarter playing center on the fourth line. C- (D first, B- second)
Kris Draper: Draper had the second-lowest plus-minus on the team for the quarter at minus-3. He had two goals, but no assists in the quarter. He's still a dynamo in the faceoff circle and a horse on the penalty-kill. C+ (B first, B- second)
Matt Ellis: Ellis has slipped behind Downey and is the 14th forward. He only got into five games this quarter. D+ (B- first, C- second)
Valtteri Filppula: Jiri Hudler drew a lot of attention for not producing offensively in this quarter, but Filppula actually had fewer points (four in 17 games). He did match up well against some top-six forwards and was a plus-4. B- (B- first, A- second)
Johan Franzen: The Mule has been consistent this season, producing four goals (third on the team) and seven points this quarter. Franzen is also showing a wonderfully testy side, including standing over Chris Pronger and cross checking him. B (C- first, A- second)
Tomas Holmstrom: Produced just three goals and five points, but was a plus-7 this quarter. His play in front of the net will be even more important now that Cleary is out with injury. B (A first, B second)
Jiri Hudler: One goal scored in 16 games is the reason that Hudler got his first healthy scratch of the season. He wasn't alone, however, in lack of offensive production this quarter. He was still a plus-2 despite not being directly involved in much offense. B- (B+ first, A- second)
Tomas Kopecky: Here's a stat to impress your friends. Who led the Red Wings in hits over the past 17 games? Kopecky with 27. He shows nice offensive flashes at times. If he could ever convert that into goals, he'd be a top-six forward. B (B- first, B second)
Kirk Maltby: In 15 games this quarter, Maltby had no points and was a team-low minus-4. He still get under opponents' skin, but not as often as he used to. C- (B- first, D second)
Mikael Samuelsson: Sammy takes some heat about not producing offense, but he trailed only Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Cleary this quarter for points by a forward with nine. He was also a plus-4 and does a good job of agitating. B+ (B first, B+ second)
Henrik Zetterberg: With eight goals, 18 points and a plus-14 in 15 games, Zetterberg was clearly the team's top player this quarter. It's a small facet of his game, but he's the only Red Wing who can score on a wrap-around. Not many forwards in the league use it as a weapon. A+ (A+ first, A second)