Krupa: Youth, injuries lead to inconsistency from Wings

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Drew Miller's penalty killing and forechecking could set an example for some of the Wings' young prospects.

At Thanksgiving, the Red Wings season is an uneven, injury-riddled performance with obvious bright spots and some good trends.

They remained on the bubble for the playoffs throughout much of the first two months, despite difficulties, including sputtering offense and a sick bay too-often occupied by some of the key Red Wings contributors.

Early in the fourth season of a self-described “rebuild on the fly,” the franchise and its followers pine for a deeper run in the playoffs. The prospects remain somewhat difficult to discern.

And so, developments are significant.

News: The Red Wings dispatched young, swift players such Tomas Jurco, Andreas Athanasiou and Landon Ferraro to Grand Rapids with waivers, while others who appear to hold less promise, especially considering their lagging offense, remain regulars in the lineup.

Views: It takes all kinds, in life and the NHL.

The fact of the matter is the roles of penalty killing, defense and what the denizen of Hockeytown like to call “grinding” are important facets of play, especially in the playoffs.

If Jurco and Athanasiou could reliably kill penalties and constantly forecheck hard at critical junctures of games, like Drew Miller and Luke Glendening, they might well be in Detroit.

If Ferraro were as big as Joakim Andersson, he might not play for the Bruins now. General manager Ken Holland is wise to consider size an important component of his team, in a league that is bigger and swifter all the time.

The Wings properly seek the best mix of offense and defense, size and speed, skill and toughness, experience and youth.

It remains entirely possible, meanwhile, the time for Jurco and Athanasiou approaches.

News: With a growing stock of similar players at defense and the forward positions, as well as two correspondingly competent goalies playing about 50 percent of the time, the Red Wings have ample resources for a trade.

Views: Yes, but this is not our father’s NHL.

Personnel rules, always a compromise between the owners and the players’ union, discourage anything approaching the multiplayer, blockbuster deals of yesteryear. That was increasingly true even before the salary cap made it mathematically challenging, if not impossible, to acquire a key player with a fistful of prospects.

That said, a significant acquisition before the deadline this season seems more likely than at any time since a more developmental phase for the roster began with the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom.

It requires shrewdness and ample fortunate circumstances to pull it off.

News: The two-goalie system is working.

Views: Sure is. Do not change it, even to the point of considering it a possibility for the playoffs.

The tag-team approach to goaltending is a sparkling success, especially given the equanimity and leadership of the former regular starter, indeed all-star, Jimmy Howard, as the Wings properly perceived the need to play Petr Mrazek.

And kudos to young Mrazek, too, for making it work, in the dressing room and, by all public appearances, with Howard.

Shunning ego is harder than forgetting about the last goal.

Beyond playing well, so far, Howard and Mrazek are proving admirable teammates and men.

News: After some injuries, Mike Green, the key free-agent signing for the Wings through the last four offseasons, could be a significant force.

Views: His impact is a key to the Wings’ season.

Because of the Wings situation on defense, Green is more valuable in Detroit than he was in Washington, to the point some occasional defensive lapses are tolerable if his offense is productive.

With Green, it is apparent the more up-ice rushes and pinches and shots from the point, the better.

The loss of Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, two splendid offensive defensemen, still affects the team. The Red Wings have some trouble exiting the zone and jump-starting their transition, although the trends are toward improvement. They also need reliable quarterbacking of the power play.

Green’s early years were like those of a future member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Injuries took a toll. So did some of the Capitals roster and coaching changes.

But his situation in Detroit is nearly perfect: The Red Wings need what Green does.

News: Jeff Blashill is through nearly two months of his rookie season as a head coach in the NHL, for one of the “storied franchises.”

Views: It certainly could have gone easier.

Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Green, Brad Richards and Brendan Smith all have missed significant playing time.

The offensive failings perturbed some of the fan base, who, as evidenced by social media, laid a good chunk of the blame on Blashill.

Unfair, even scapegoating.

What we know about Blashill, through 22 games, is he is smart and competent.

Time will tell how well he draws it up and bolsters the troops in the playoffs, if the health of his squad affords that opportunity.

Media and fan scrutiny is certainly greater in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and even arguably New York and Boston, than it is in Detroit, especially early in the season.

Regardless, the growing sense is Blashill is unflappable.

News: Dylan Larkin is no flash in the pan.

Views: For Red Wings fans, another item on the list for Thanksgiving Day!