The Detroit Red Wings are tied for the second-fewest points in the NHL's Eastern Conference entering Thursday's games, and are all but a lock to miss their third straight postseason.
That's pretty much what's been expected, according to ESPN, which on Thursday handed Detroit a C grade in its NHL midseason report card.
Detroit is 19-25-7 for 45 points, tied with New Jersey, and just two better than Eastern Conference cellar-dwelling Ottawa, which plays host to the Red Wings on Saturday night. Only two teams — Ottawa and Los Angeles (44) — have fewer points than Detroit.
"(The Red Wings are) not as bad as their record, but not good either," writes ESPN's Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski. "But, boy, that Jimmy Howard has been good."
Howard was the Red Wings' lone All-Star, enjoying one of the better seasons of his career (2.76 goals-against average, .916 saves percentage), and carried Detroit's goaltending to a B-plus grade from ESPN
"We are all witnesses to the Jimmy Howard renaissance," Kaplan and Wyshynski write. "... He earned his trip to the All-Star Game."
ESPN also had high regard for defenseman Nick Jensen, who received "class president honors" in the report card, with Kaplan and Wyshynski calling the 28-year-old "one of the most underrated players in the NHL this season, posting an expected goals plus/minus of plus-1.79 playing with a variety of defensive partners."
The Red Wings' forwards received a B, on the strength of Dylan Larkin (48 points in 51 games), Gustav Nyquist (32 assists), and Andrea Athanasiou (17 goals), among others.
After that, though, the grades begin to slide.
Despite Jensen's efforts, the defensemen received a C-plus, special teams a D-plus — "Their special teams are ... not special," according to ESPN — and head coach Jeff Blashill and Ken Holland were handed a C-plus and C, respectively.
"The success obviously hasn't been there for Jeff Blashill, who will spend what many assume will be his last season in Detroit out of the playoffs again," ESPN writes. "But the Red Wings play hard, and he has done well in developing some of their young talents."
"He has other assets to move this season — although some of them have trade protection, because, well, it's Ken Holland," writes ESPN, alluding to veteran forward Thomas Vanek, among others. "Then, we'll all wait to see if he moves on to other opportunities."