LOS ANGELES KINGS VS. DETROIT RED WINGS
DETROIT, MI – OCTOBER 31: Pavel Datsyuk #13 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates his first period goal with teammate Henrik Zetterberg #40 of the Detroit Red Wings during a NHL game against the Los Angeles Kings on October 31, 2014 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. Zetterberg and Datsyuk have been key to Detroit’s early success.
With Friday night’s 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings, the Detroit Red Wings are 6-2-2 and sit in third place in the Eastern Conference. Many talking heads would argue that the record is more successful than the Red Wings should be.
The pundits have been quick to cite the strong rebound by goaltender Jimmy Howard, who is 5-1-2 with a .929 save percentage (seventh in the NHL) and a 1.97 goals against average (tied with Pekka Rinne for sixth in the NHL). Howard has been a big part of the early success.
Before the season, many commentators wondered if last season’s breakout forward Gustav Nyquist would be able to continue to find the net. “Goose” scored twice last night and has seven goals and two assists on the season. He has also scored four of Detroit’s five power play goals. Against the Kings, he almost connected with fellow youngster Riley Sheahan on what would have been a beautiful assist to the back post.
Detroit’s penalty kill leads the league at 94.1 percent. The Red Wings have only allowed two power play goals on 34 kills. That success rate would make even legendary coach Scotty Bowman, who was obsessed with special teams play, blush.
Despite so many aspects of the game going well for the Red Wings, Detroit owes its success to its top line.
Superstar forward and captain Henrik Zetterberg has been other worldly on both ends of the ice. He is tied for second in scoring with 14 points (3 goals, 11 assists). When his name is mentioned in the same sentence as Sidney Crosby, Tyler Seguin, and Corey Perry, he probably would not complain.
Fellow superstar forward Pavel Datsyuk has contributed four goals, including two against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Kings on Friday, and four assists in five games played. Newest linemate Justin Abdelkader has posted five goals and four assists thus far. While the latter will not continue to contribute just under a point per game, he has been a superb complimentary piece to the Eurotwins.
Of the 73 points Detroit has posted as a team, their top line has 31, an astounding 42.5 percent of the team’s scoring.
Both Zetterberg and Datsyuk only played in 45 games apiece last season. Of those games, they were not available at the same time very often. Zetterberg contributed 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists), while Datsyuk posted 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists). No team can be a contender when players of that caliber are out for long periods of time. The early season success confirms just how important those two are to Detroit’s aspirations.
82 games is a long season. Undoubtedly, the first ten will be a mere microcosm of Detroit’s overall season. If Zetterberg and Datsyuk can remain healthy, they will likely finish at a point per game scoring pace. Abdelkader will likely not be able to keep up with that pace.
The top line will continue to be the most important factor in any continued success. Once youngsters like Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco, two very talented players, and Detroit’s defense start contributing more scoring, the one-line Red Wings will be tougher to defend.
When Detroit’s power play finds its legs, this team could become dangerous. The Red Wings are tied for 23rd in the NHL in power play success rate with 5 goals in 39 attempts. That 12.8 percent success rate is near the bottom of the NHL.
That statistic may be deceiving though. Other great teams in the early season like Montreal (first in the Eastern Conference) and Nashville (tied for second in the Western Conference) are actually worse on the man advantage.
The Detroit organization has to be thrilled with its early success. Many in the organization and in the hockey world would argue that nobody should really be surprised that a healthy Zetterberg and Datsyuk combination is leading this team.