Wings' first-quarter grades
Through the first quarter of the NHL regular season, the defending champion Detroit Red Wings have gone 16-4-4, putting them alongside San Jose and Boston as the most impressive teams thus far in the young season.
The power play has been marvelous for the Red Wings, leading the league. Goal scoring has not been a problem, especially with the addition of Marian Hossa. The Red Wings are second in the NHL with a 3.42 goals scored per game average.
Keeping goals out of the net has been a problem for the team that allowed the fewest goals against a season ago. The Red Wings rank 19th in the 30-team league in goals allowed per game. An improvement in 5-on-3 goals allowed -- the Red Wings have given up a league-worst six -- will help in this department.
Here are individual grades for performances over the first 24 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.
Ty Conklin B: The new No. 2 goaltender has posted better numbers than the No. 1 netminder. Conklin has fared better than Osgood thus far in goals-against average and save percentage and has matched Osgood in penalty-kill save percentage. That has led to Conklin going from a one-in-three-games starting cycle to a one-in-two.
Chris Osgood B-: Osgood is the playoff goalie, but right now, he's not playing like it. On a team that is strong at every position and in depth, goaltending was the No. 1 concern entering this season and remains so. It's a long way until the playoff opener. Osgood has time to get himself back into the mode where he led the league in playoff goals-against average last spring. Right now though, his goals-against average is double what is was in the playoffs.
Niklas Kronwall B-: When Kronwall is 11th on the Red Wings in hits per game, something's not right. Last season, Kronwall was fourth on the team, averaging 1.4 hits per game. Then in the playoffs, he stepped that up to 1.9 hits per game. This season, he's averaging just 0.9 hits per game and I don't think it's because his partner, Brad Stuart, is hammering everybody on the ice. Add to that Kronwall has been on the ice for more even-strength goals allowed (21) than any other Wing and it's not a good start. His offensive contributions (13 points) have been good.
Brett Lebda C: Just a nightmare start for Lebda that led to his short-term benching in favor of Derek Meech. At that point, Lebda had been on the ice for nine goals against and no goals for. That's hard to do. He would have gotten a D grade at that point. Since then though, the Wings have outscored opponents, 6-3, with Lebda on the ice. Nice rebound.
Nicklas Lidstrom B+: This isn't grading Lidstrom on his own superhuman curve. Lidstrom has had a slow start period. How's this for a stat that you could have made a million dollars on -- Lidstrom has fewer even-strength points (five) than Andreas Lilja (six). Still, the Red Wings outscored opponents, 23-18, at even strength with Lidstrom on the ice and he is Mr. Everything, being on the top power-play unit, top PK unit, shut-down defense pairing. He might deserve an A- on workload alone. But the defensive mistakes are more frequent than at any other time since the lockout.
Andreas Lilja B: Lilja is playing better than he ever has with the Red Wings and I liked him before. Because of Chris Chelios' broken leg, Lilja has moved up to the top PK unit and done wonderfully. He's been on the ice for just two 5-on-4 goals against. He's second on the team in hits and blocked shots. And when he puts up six points in 24 games after tallying just 12 all of last season … that's as good a quarter-season as you're going to get from Lilja. He has become the No. 5 defenseman after battling with Lebda and Chelios for that spot last season.
Derek Meech C-: Meech won a roster spot by beating out Kyle Quincey. Since then, he has played six games on defense and seven games at forward. His value is his versatility and his ability to move the puck from the back end. Meech is better on the blue line, but that's a crowded position, especially with Chelios due back this week. At forward, he's getting better, but the he's on the ice for more goals allowed per minute played than any other forward.
Brian Rafalski B: Rafalski has had too many defensive-zone mistakes, leading the team with 21 giveaways. He also has the highest combination of shots taken that are blocked or miss the net of any Red Wing. Offensively, Rafalski is the Wings' top scoring defenseman. He has drawn the opposition's top forward line every game and can fill in on the penalty-kill when needed. Still, you'd like to see a little more as the Red Wings' blue line transitions from being Lidstrom's team to Rafalski's.
Brad Stuart B+: This guy is hitting like Kronwall did in the playoffs. To do that and give the opposition only five power plays is a great job. Stuart also doesn't make many defensive-zone gaffes, moving the puck well. The one thing keeping Stuart from being an A is offense. Sure, he's got just two assists, but more importantly, the Wings just don't score much with him on the ice. At even strength, the Wings score about as often with Stuart on the ice as they do with Lilja. Only Lebda has worse offensive team numbers.
Dan Cleary B-: Missed eight games because of a scratched cornea. Can play on any of the top three lines, center or wing, kill penalties or be on the power play, play on the half-wall or net-front. One surprising stat for Cleary this quarter is that he only drew one opposition penalty while taking six penalties. He's usually stronger in that department.
Pavel Datsyuk A-: Coach Mike Babcock is right. Datsyuk enjoys setting up Marian Hossa much more than he enjoys shooting the puck. He's down about one shot per game -- 0.5 shots on goal and 0.5 shots that are blocked or miss the net. Hopefully, Datsyuk will start pulling the trigger more often. Second to Draper on the team in faceoff winning percentage.
Kris Draper C: The Red Wings were outscored 13-3 at even strength with Draper on the ice, by far the worst on the team in that category. Draper has spent much of the first quarter as a fourth-liner. On the positive side, he remains the team's best and one of the league's best faceoff men. He's also having a great season on the penalty-kill. Opponents have scored just two power-play goals with Draper on the ice and that's in more than 56 minutes of playing time.
Valtteri Filppula B-: I don't know if Filppula will ever translate well into statistics. As one team insider said, he's just a very tough player to go up against. Still, the Wings haven't scored often with Filppula on the ice this season. Only Draper, McCarty, Maltby and Kopecky have been on the ice for fewer goals per minute played than Filppula.
Johan Franzen B+: Here's the biggest problem with Franzen's season -- he's going to cost a lot of money to sign as a free agent next summer. Franzenstein is proving all over again that he can score. He and Hossa and Henrik Zetterberg are the top three goal-scoring options. Franzen and Hossa share the team lead with goals in 10 games …that despite Franzen missing five games with a sprained knee. His defense didn't start great, but is returning to its usual level of excellence.
Tomas Holmstrom A-: You know what happened when Homstrom went out with back spasms? The top power-play unit stopped scoring, getting just one goal in the past six games, despite having Datsyuk and Hossa, Lidstrom and Rafalski. The Red Wings have outscored opponents, 13-5, at even strength with Holmstrom on the ice. The Wings also score more power-play goals per minute with Homer out there than with any other forward.
Marian Hossa A+: What a great, great addition to a championship team. Everyone knows that Hossa leads the Wings in goals and points. He's also defensively committed. The Red Wings have outscored opponents 21-12 at even strength with Hossa on the ice. He's earned a regular shift on the PK. One negative about Hossa … he takes too many offensive zone penalties (team-high four) and has a team-high five more in the neutral zone.
Jiri Hudler B: Hudler is fourth on the team with nine goals. Considering he only gets 12 minutes of ice time per game, that's a pretty lofty status. At first, you'd think Hudler's production was power-play inflated, but it's not. His five even-strength goals are tied for third on the team behind just Hossa and Franzen.
Tomas Kopecky C: Kopecky leads all Detroit forwards in hits (33), which is part of the reason why he is fourth on the team in drawing opposition penalties (seven). So far though, the Slovak hasn't shown much of an offensive game, meaning he's a fourth-liner. The time he spent on a line with Datsyuk and Hossa might have exposed his lack of offense more than bolstered it. He was on the ice for three power-play goals in his short stint on that unit.
Kirk Maltby C+: The downside to Maltby is that when he's on the ice, the Wings don't score much. The upside is that the opposition doesn't either. And that's not a bad fourth-liner. Maltby is 11th among forwards in team even-strength scoring with him on the ice, but he's second to Holmstrom in goals against. He doesn't hit much any more and his agitating doesn't lead to opposition penalties (two drawn).
Darren McCarty C-: Playing only 13 games hurts McCarty's grade. He's a much better player than I ever would have thought he'd be in his second go-round with the Wings. He's an excellent leader. But he's also a black-hole of offense. The Wings have scored just one even-strength goal in McCarty's 68 minutes on the ice.
Mikael Samuelsson B+: I swear Samuelsson doesn't pass well … but he's tied with Datsyuk for the team lead in assists (16). I hate seeing a forward on the blue line on the power play, but Samuelsson has been a major part of the power play's success. No Red Wings has been on the ice for more power-play goals than Samuelsson (18) even though he's seventh on the team in power-play ice time. He started on the third line, but he's back on the second line for good reason. He's good defensively and has an edge to him.
Henrik Zetterberg A: Zetterberg was not put in the prime forward position this season. He doesn't have Hossa to snipe for him and he doesn't have Holmstrom working the net-front. He's had several different linemates, but no matter who's with him, Zetterberg produces. He's second on the team in goals (11) and points (24). Here's a small facet of the game at which Zetterberg is amazing. He went the first seven games without drawing a single power play. In the 17 games since, he has drawn 17 power plays. That's a remarkable team advantage. He had a four-game stretch of 10 power plays drawn.