John Niyo and Ted Kulfan take a look at the Red Wings at the one-quarter mark of the NHL season. The Detroit News
Detroit — It could have been a lot worse. Just remember that.
With the Red Wings concluding the first quarter of the season Tuesday in thrilling, successful fashion, rallying for a 4-3 overtime victory in Anaheim, remember that these opening 20 games could have been even worse.
Tuesday’s win gave the Wings their first three-game winning streak of the season. They are 7-12-1, which puts them 27th in a 31-team league.
The Wings’ negative-29 goal differential is the worst in the league by eight goals. They have the NHL’s worst penalty kill (69.3 percent). More than a few players have been underwhelming through this first quarter.
But, the win streak and the promising signs shown by a few young players give the Wings and their fans hope for the remainder of the 2019-20 schedule and beyond.
Here's what we learned from the first 20 games:
Digging a hole
What soured the season to this point was the Wings losing 12 of 13 games, after winning three of four to open the season, which created a ton of instant excitement.
Injuries to veteran defensemen Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green and Trevor Daley, forward Luke Glendening, and a prolonged slump by Andreas Athanasiou (among others), generated a downfall.
The Wings are only beginning to climb of that monstrous hole.
The acquisition of forward Robby Fabbri (for Jacob de la Rose) has coincided with the three victories. Fabbri has earned four points in the three games, and jolted the team’s offense. He certainly looks like someone who can help the Wings.
The top line of Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha continues to thrive, but now, Fabbri, Valtteri Filppula and Athanasiou are creating some excitement on the second line.
Young defensemen Filip Hronek and Dennis Cholowski are playing well and goalie Jonathan Bernier has taken control of the net.
It looks much more promising than it did a couple weeks ago.
The power play ranks 22nd, at 16.7 percent, and the penalty kill dead last at 69.3 percent. If a team loses the nightly specialty teams game within a game, it’s probably going to lose the actual game.
And the Wings have done so often these first 20 games.
The penalty kill hasn’t been helped by injuries to Glendening and DeKeyser, arguably the team’s best defensive forward and defenseman, respectively, and sub-par goaltending. But it has to rise in the rankings for this team to be competitive.
The power play has recently received a spark from Fabbri, who scored two power-play goals Friday in his debut. Athanasiou might be waking up, too.
The Wings rank 27th with 46 total goals but dead last at 2.30 goals per game.
Larkin’s line has been dominant from game one in Nashville, but there’s been precious little coming out of the rest of the lines, until the Fabbri, Filppula and Athanasiou line has become a threat in recent days.
Allowing 3.75 goals per game, the Red Wings rank last in the NHL. At one point of this season, the Wings had four consecutive losses of four or more goals. Team defense and lack of quality goaltending combined to produce the poor numbers.
Blashill alternated between Howard and Bernier for most of the first quarter, and neither lay claim to the starting job until Howard was pulled in consecutive starts and Bernier got control of the net and has earned three consecutive victories. It’ll be interesting to see how long Bernier will be No. 1, and how many opportunities Howard will get to get his game straight. The Wings need better goaltending to get back to respectability.
Blashill and his staff were feeling the heat mightily after an ugly Nov. 4 home loss to Nashville, which more or less was rock bottom of the first-quarter. But after a better effort — but, still, a loss in New York — the Wings have won three consecutive games.
Blashill isn’t likely to be judged solely on wins and losses. It’ll be on the overall development and progress of a vast number of young players.
But no organization wants to be embarrassed, either, and that stretch of 12 losses in 13 games wasn’t a great look.
General manager Steve Yzerman acquired Fabbri, and earlier Brendan Perlini (for prospect Alec Regula), both young forwards essentially low-risk, nothing-to-lose acquisitions that could benefit the Wings now, and in the long run.
Perlini has yet to score a point in seven games, but is beginning to show signs of life the last couple of games. Fabbri, on the other hand, has looked like an absolute steal in a small sample size.
Yzerman also acquired defenseman Alex Biega to add veteran depth, and has used Grand Rapids’ roster as a spark, when needed, in an effort to shake up the Wings and see exactly what kind of talent he has at his disposal.
Anthony Mantha. Not a major surprise, there was a good feeling surrounding Mantha during training camp and the preseason, coming off a productive world championship tournament last spring and strong second half, that Mantha was destined for a big 2019-20 season.
But the way Mantha burst out of the gate — four-goal game the second game of the season — plus the consistency he’s shown and played with, Mantha has been the Wings’ best offensive player the entire 20-game segment.
Let’s say Hronek. Hronek was another young player who looked so good the final weeks of last season, but still came into this season as a bit of question mark, as to whether he would be able to carry over the performance.
After an impressive world championship tournament last spring, which may have helped in his confidence, yes, Hronek has carried over that performance, and then some.
He’s been the Wings’ most consistent defenseman.
Overall, let’s say Athanasiou. Much more was expected than three goals through his 18 games played, and the minus-22 would stand him in good stead at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, but not one-quarter through an NHL schedule.
But there are so many, many more.
Frans Nielsen, Adam Erne, Christoffer Ehn and Trevor Daley, all still looking for their first point of the season. Taro Hirose, who was counted on to be a facilitator on the second line, with only five points (no goals), until losing his spot in the lineup to Fabbri. Justin Abdelkader, with no goals through 16 games, and now hurt for a month. Mike Green, only generating four points through 17 games. And goaltenders Howard and Bernier, both of whom failed to grab control of the No. 1 job until Bernier has for these three victories.
Keep an eye on
Definitely Fabbri. He had a fine rookie season in St. Louis before two consecutive ACL injuries stalled his career progress. Fabbri lost his post in the Blues’ lineup, and there have been questions as to whether he’ll ever again become an impact player. So far, the results have been good with the Wings.
The 4-2 victory Friday over the Bruins. Boston scored real early, and the Wings could have melted, as they’d done so often this quarter.
Instead, Dylan Larkin tied the game quickly, and the Wings put together one of their best, all-around games of the first 20. And it was vital, against a powerful opponent, and with the losing streak mounting as it was.
The 4-0 loss at Florida on Nov. 2. The Wings were never really in this game, rarely mounted much pressure, but to be fair, there were a lot of candidates in this category.
Red Wings at Kings
Faceoff: 10:30 Thursday, Staples Center, Los Angeles
Outlook: The Wings recalled defenseman Jonathan Ericsson from Grand Rapids. ... The Kings (6-11-1) are last in the NHL with only 13 points. ... There’s many issues with the Kings currently, but C Anze Kopitar isn’t one of them, with 18 points (12 assists) in 18 games. ... G Jonathan Quick (3-8-0, 3.96 GAA, .874 SVS) has to play better.