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Three surprises

Gustav Nyquist – If you’d ask many fans during the summer, they would have begun a cause on PayPal to run Nyquist out of town. But fast forward to now, with Nyquist tied for the team lead with 14 goals and looking like a genuine offensive threat. Looking like the player who first arrived on the NHL scene.

Jonathan Ericsson – If it wasn’t Nyquist who was on social media’s radar, it was definitely Ericsson. But the big defenseman is the lone regular lineup player on the plus side of plus-minus and has formed a dependable defensive pairing with Trevor Daley.

Jimmy Howard – A surprise only in the respect that Howard was been able to maintain an elite level of goaltending he started last season. Right now, you have to mention Howard’s name in the same breath with the best goalies in the NHL.

Three disappointments

Danny DeKeyser – Still searching to regain his form of two seasons ago. An ankle injury the second week of this season, which forced DeKeyser to miss 18 games, certainly didn’t help matters. He’s been playing better of late, which might signal a turnaround.

Petr Mrazek – The hope around the Red Wings was Mrazek would take the stuff from last summer – being exposed in the expansion draft but getting passed on by Vegas, work ethic and being a bad teammate issues gone public, etc. – would somehow motivate him toward on-ice success. He has been a better worker, teammate. But the success hasn’t happened.

Little Caesars Arena – There was an anticipation heading into this season that nearly every game would be sold out, it would be a festive atmosphere what with the Red Wings moving into a new, state-of-the-art arena, and never mind what the team looked like. Instead, the team might be a touch better than expected, but fans simply haven’t been in their seats for whatever reason. And until recently, atmosphere has been lacking.

Team MVP

Jimmy Howard – By a nose over Dylan Larkin. Howard’s given his team the chance to win most games, and that’s all you can ask of a goalie. During this latest win streak just before the bye, Howard looked as good as he’s ever looked.

Unsung hero

Martin Frk - This is a guy who the Red Wings waived at the start of last season, only to grab him back when Carolina waived him, too. It was no sure thing Frk would make the Red Wings in October, but he capitalized on Andreas Athanasiou’s contract impasse and Frk now has eight goals and has established himself as a threat on the power play with such a hard shot.

Three reasons to be optimistic

Dylan Larkin/Andreas Athanasiou clicking – Another big reason for the four-game win streak (before losing to Tampa) was the production by these two young players, who seem to have established chemistry and whose speed gives opposing teams all sorts of problems. Their continued improvement would be great news.

Wild card spot available – Grabbing one of the top three automatic playoff bids in the Atlantic Division looks farfetched. But they’re only six points behind Pittsburgh for the final wild card spot with three teams in between. All those teams have flaws, as do the Red Wings. But there’s a chance.

Team defense – The defensive unit, as a whole, hasn’t been nearly as bad as everyone suspected they would. Haven’t been awesome, but again, not nearly as bad. And as a team, they were real good before Sunday’s loss to Tampa put a damper on things.

Three reasons to be pessimistic

Road schedule – The Red Wings have 23 of their remaining 41 games away from Little Caesars Arena. Beginning Feb. 2, they play 20 of 31 games on the road. It’s a brutal stretch, against some very good teams. And the Red Wings currently have a 7-10-1 road record, which doesn’t bode well.

Goaltending depth – The Red Wings can’t lean on Jimmy Howard even more than they did in the first half. It’s unrealistic. Petr Mrazek must play better and provide his team a chance to win.

Problems within the division – For the Red Wings to move up in the standing, they must play better within the Atlantic Division, something they haven’t done the past few seasons. This season, they’re 6-9-2, which hampers their chances for the playoffs.

Questionable futures

Mike Green – An unrestricted free agent this summer, Green’s name will be all over the Internet in terms of being a rental at the Feb. 26 trade deadline. Green’s offensive ability should be able to garner the Red Wings some juicy draft picks.

Petr Mrazek – You’d have to think Mrazek could still provide some insurance for a playoff team looking to strengthen its goaltending. But, obviously, Mrazek needs to play better to strengthen his trade value. A restricted free agent, his future with the Red Wings looks shaky.

Ken Holland – In the final season of his contract, Holland’s future with the Red Wings is hazy. Does the Ilitch family go in another direction? Stay the course? Is a massive rebuild in order? We will see.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tkulfan

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